For super movie aficionado and independent film production driver Donald Cardini, film crew after film crew treat him with very little worth. Full of creatively complimenting movie ideas and brandishing a go-getter attitude, nothing will stop the driver’s own creative outlet. When his favorite scream queen, Reversa Red, is involved in his next gig, Cardini’s creative juices bubble to the surface as he personally drives her to and from the set, sparking a connection with the actress who values his input, but the threat of a Reversa Red stalker places Cardini on edge and the rest of the film crew continues to ceaseless disparage him. Pushed over the edge into madness, the violence prone driver hijacks those belittling him, along with Reverse Red, to an isolated location where he can shoot his own snuff movie, a one of a kind production starring his favorite actress.
You might have read on how much I’ve given my two cents praise toward the late Ryan Nicholson in previous reviews of “Hanger,” “Live Feed,” and “Gutterballs.” Those trio of pictures are stuffed with gratuitous violence and nudity, wealthy in rich, colorful characters, and are just the epitome of gonzo-grindhouse cinema from the multi-talented filmmaker from our Canadian neighbor. “Star Vehicle” rides that same bonkers high-speed train full of Nicholson-ism and topics too crass for comfort, but even with all the similar vulgarity and depravity that makes Nicholson so ghastly loveable and even with a few of the same actors from previous works, “Star Vehicle” regresses technically into a lesser shell when compared to the aforementioned films above. The 2010 exploitation-slasher, alternatively known as “Bleeding Lady,” is executive produced by former model Charie Van Dyke under her New Image Entertainment production banner and Nicholson’s company, Plotdigger Films.
At the tip of the spear is the non-titular “Hanger” front man Dan Ellis in the role of the abrasive Donald Cardini. Instead of wearing face-altering prosthetics and aviator shades that made his The John character in “Hanger” an antiheroic and perverse veteran of the armed services unforgettable, Ellis steps down into a leaner version of psychotic foreplay by providing his “Star Vehicle” appearance with an all-natural tough guy stern and smirk look under a permed beard and atop hair while seamlessly plotting the same amoral atrocities. Crazy suits the actor with wild eyes complimenting his grave unsympathetic hand, an act of situational severity that comes more naturally to Ellis when interacting with other castmates as urges begin to take over and all hell breaks loose, leaving not a single other to rival his Donald Cardini wanton killer. Unlike Ellis, the other characters are not as colorfully mad or interesting and that’s terribly atypical of a Nicholson film who had the ability to craft diabolically perverted and warped behaviors. I was expecting a punchier leading lady opposite of Ellis with Sindy Faraguna. Playing a genre scream queen doted on by Cardini with every film she touches, Faraguna inevitably descends into the final girl trope without deserving one ounce of landing in such a fortunate position for the simple fact that her captor really doesn’t wish to hurt her; instead, Cardini exploits her to convince others of his movie-making-macabre magic while Faraguna just screams Reversa Red’s head off for the plot-digging finale that’s more cacophonously raspy in determination than a bloodcurdling cry of terror. Tangled up in a mix is plot twist and subplot involving a Reversa Red stalker who, as we know how these dropped tidbits of information circle back around eventually, should have determined the fate of our leads but this, too, lands wobbly at best, crusted over by an energetic-drained letdown of corrosion-covered aggressive conduct. “Star Vehicle” rounds out the cast with Nathan Durec (“Famine”), Nick Windebank, Mike Le, Paiage Farbacher, Erindera Farga, Matthew Janega, Kris Michalesk, and Gary Starkell who also seems to windup playing some version of a homeless man – see “Collar” and “Bad Building.”
“Star Vehicle,” an industry term, defines as a film or television show specifically written and/or created to showcase the talents of a specific entertainer to increase their fame and recognition. Nicholson sardonically uses that concept as Cardini kills his way to make it happen for his primo starlet Reversa Red, but also Nicholson literally, in a subtle Nicholson-ludicrous manner, has Cardini driving Reversa Red to and from filming sets in his beat up 2000’s Ford Windstar mini-van. The latter, along with the entire essence of “Star Vehicle,” is essentially a jab to the guerilla style nature of indie movie filmmaking. A few characters note how producers skimp with the budget, Cardini snarks about his cracked windshield production won’t pay for, and the caliber of the cast comes under indirect fire when one of starlets mechanically delivers her lines like a stiff automaton are just a handful of instances Nicholson mocks in his knock against indie production idiosyncrasies. Where “Star Vehicles” becomes a lemon is with the slapdash editing and the clunky story that tiptoes onto non-linear ground, bashfully uncertain going back into previous events for exposition sake was actually necessary. What’s brought to light with Reversa Red’s stalker and their involvement treads flimsily to an ultimate twist gum up by “Star Vehicle’s” curbed devices. By adding the break down by throwing a monkey wrench in the already galumphing development, the main antagonist, Cardini, can never regain that vice gripping potency touted earlier. Gory as it may be like any Nicholson splatterfest, “Star Vehicle” loses drive to make the finish line but still purrs like a bloodhungry beast.
This October, Unearthed Films releases Ryan Nicholson’s “Star Vehicle” onto Blu-ray and DVD. Unrated and stuff with extras, the sixth Nicholson film to be resurrected for Unearthed Films’ catalogue is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio BD50 and DVD9 with a runtime of 76 minutes on both formats while the Blu-ray is encoded with region A and the DVD with region 1. Extras include a whopping amount with a little more bonus material on the Blu-ray. Blu-ray includes commentary with director Ryan Nicholson and lead Dan Ellis, Left Coast TV present “On the Set with Star Vehicle,” Behind the Wheel of Bleeding Lady, Making “Star Vehicle,” Makeup Students and Acting Students, deleted scenes, alternating opening, Splatterfest! at the Plaza, Nicholson’s 2013 feature “Dead Nude Girls,” photo gallery and trailer while the DVD sports the same content minus the second feature, “Dead Nude Girls.” I can’t relay my thoughts on either the A/V nor the special features since only a digital screener of the film was provided. Don’t be afraid of the clunker comments and opinions, hop in and take a ride with Ryan Nicholson’s “Star Vehicle,” a gory dauntless joyride sped to lampoon it’s own indie outlet with a meta-plot and a tank full of carnage fuel.