Men will be boys...
Everything I should have never learned about sex, I learned in college.
The same could likely be said for Pete (Jamie Kaler), Stephen (Burt Bulos), Brian (Peter Shinkoda), Michael (Shaun Parker), Dan (Arye Gross), Paul (Dean Haglund, and John (Phil Leirness), the central figures in writer/director Phil Leirness's ultra-dark comedy The Lady Killers and men for whom sex is a game. Literally.
Several of our key players met as frat brothers when their game was one of seemingly innocent sexual conquests with the winner claiming a few hundred backs and an infinite number of bragging rights. Years later, the "game" gets reprised with even bigger winnings at stake.
Of course, real life ain't college and sex isn't really just a game.
Or is it?
The Lady Killers is a demented piece of dark comedy, the kind of comedy that's so dark that you don't know if you should laugh, cry, shudder or just plain look over your shoulder.
If you know Leirness's work, whether we're talking about something bold yet relatively safe like The Party Crashers or something a whole lot more audacious like Karl Rove, I Love You, then you already know that Leirness isn't a guy who's afraid to dabble within the darkest corners of the human mind. Yet, he does so with a refreshing authenticity and a sense of humor that would likely seem surprising if much of his work wasn't actually labeled as comedy.
The Lady Killers is a comedy, at times an outrageous comedy, yet it's also, in true Leirness fashion, that the film points the camera back at Hollywood's easy exploitation of women and, I'd dare say, the ways in which we as audience members easily surrender to being entertained by the exploitation of others.
Without giving too much away, and part of the film's humor and power comes from watching it all unfold, The Lady Killers takes thsi ensemble cast of faux machismo misogynists and makes us comfortable with their toxic masculinity - at least, that is, until Leirness starts to slowly reveal his hand and we're left with the awareness that Leirness, both a gifted filmmaker and a known state-certified Violence Prevention Specialist in California, has been in control all along.
It helps, of course, to have a solid cast and Leirness definitely has that on hand including his own role as John, a psychiatrist whose participation in the game is at least moderately predictable yet achingly dark for anyone, including myself, who has been through a similar scenario. Jamie Kaler also shines as Pete, a cocksure cop with more than a little bit of a shadow, while Arye Gross, arguably the film's most familiar name, plays somewhat against type as Dan, whose presence you never quite trust. Shaun Parker's Michael is, perhaps, the film's most emotionally devastating figure, a bit of an insecure dork whose participation in the game seems ill-advised and whose desperation to win the game leads to rather harrowing choices.
It isn't all that surprising that the women in The Lady Killers aren't given top billing, though the film would be completely and utterly lost without them. It's to the credit of Leirness that we get glimpses of just how vital their presence is, yet it's wisely underplayed throughout the film's nearly two hour running time.
The original music by Greg De Belles complements the film quite nicely, while Leirness's own lensing helps to maximize the film's comic timing while also leaving an emotional impact. While there are unquestionably moments when the low-budget nature of The Lady Killers is obvious, more often than not Leirness's story has us so involved that it's easy to let go of minor production issues.
The Lady Killers isn't so much a visionary film as it is a jarringly honest and disturbingly authentic one. You may feel guilty for laughing, but you will laugh and, in the end, that's part of the point. Taking us places we may not want to go yet we're glad we do, The Lady Killers should have no problem finding a home on the indie film fest circuit and is the kind of film you'll be talking about long after the closing credits have rolled.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic