It would be nearly impossible to not admire the indie spirit that courses through the cinematic veins of writer/director Steve Wollett's unique and inspired Jack Be Nimble, a nerd-culture comedy/thriller set, in of all places, a two-bit nursing facility where RPG hijinks are matched only by inexplicable supernatural happenings that are having more than a little bit of a detrimental impact on life inside this bizarre little facility where staff look like patients and patients look like they'd rather be anywhere else but here.
Jack Be Nimble was shot in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a fact not particularly rare as we're seeing more and more pandemic-influenced films rise to the surface because creatives have to, well, create. However, you have to add into the mix that Wollett also lost his wife early in the pandemic and it's also that grief that influenced the making of the film and I'd dare say the overall vibe of the film.
Grief is a weird little bastard.
The film stars noted character actor Vernon Wells as Jack, a bit of a drunkard and a kinda sorta ring leader for a group of elder RPG players who now find themselves inside this facility wiling away their days playing games and waiting to die. According to Jack, that may be sooner rather than later because he's absolutely certain that there's someone, or something, within the walls of the nursing home sucking the souls out of its residents.
But, ya know, Jack is a little demented.
Jack Be Nimble is the kind of film where you either get into its rhythm or you simply don't. It's a B-movie tingled comedy/thriller, with a heavy emphasis on comedy that may not always be as evident given the film's often darker tones. It's a fun film, though not necessarily a film I feel is entirely successful and it's not quite a film I'm willing to give an enthusiastic thumbs up to.
But still, there's something here.
The 76-year-old Wells has established a fairly remarkable career out of playing baddies. Easily recognizable from such films as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Commando, and Weird Science, Wells adds a grizzly charm here and knows exactly the right vibe to put out to make this nonsensical vibe make sense. The same is largely true for Bai Ling as Nurse Edmond, who is more likely to fulfill that bucket list nurse fantasy here than accurately administer meds but who very likely harbors more than a few life-altering secrets here. Bai Ling, a veteran of such films as The Crow, Crank, and Red Corner, is a bit delirious as a nurse who is like no other nurse you've ever experienced.
Or want to, for that matter.
The rest of the ensemble in Jack Be Nimble is more hit-and-miss, Wollett obviously shooting for a vibe here that's difficult to pull off even for experienced actors. That said, the film is never less than interesting to watch even when it doesn't entirely work.
Special effects are cheesy at best, though my guess is much of that is intentional. John McClung's lensing work is creatively chaotic mostly to good effect for the film and Jon Salmon's original score gets the film hyped though the film's sound design occasionally betrays it.
Jack Be Nimble is the kind of film that prospers at indie and microcinema fests where audiences are used to ignoring those telltale signs of low-budget filmmaking like audio and sound mix concerns and hit-and-miss performances. Indeed, there's already evidence that Jack Be Nimble is looking at a long festival life with early prizes at Virgin Spring Cinefest (Best Narrative Feature, Best Genre Film, Best Musical Score, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress) and Accord Cinefest (Best Film, Best Director) among others.
By no means for everyone, Jack Be Nimble will no doubt find its indie audience and pick up a few more awards along its way. While it didn't entirely click for me, it's impossible to not admire the adventurous spirit at work here and the fierce dedication of Steve Wollett and his cast and crew in bringing this all to life.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic