Amounting to Nothing, the first feature written and directed by San Antonio’s Johnny Luna (and starring some of our city’s top comedians) is one of those projects that seem to be always arriving, with endless email updates and a sole, poor “unofficial trailer.”
The movie opens with too obvious Pulp Fiction references: a diner talk, a title card that jumps on the screen after a loud guitar riff, bank robbers (of course), more title cards (as in “The Bonnie Situation”), and plenty of fast-paced dialogue. But the movie is also a straight-ahead comedy, with moments of slapstick and plenty of silliness, racial jokes (no hue is spared), and oodles of sarcasm.
The problem is that the references are so dead-on that, intentionally or not, they’re less homage and more rip-off: A couple at a grocery store kiss passionately, and then take out their guns and proceed to rob the place. Sound familiar? They stopped short of saying “I love you, Honey Bunny,” but they came pretty darn close. If that wasn’t enough, seconds later they revisit Raising Arizona, when they tell the clerk to hit the ground and keep his hands up, before realizing the position is neither comfortable nor practical (in the Coen Brothers’ film, John Goodman’s character asks the confused hostages to simultaneously freeze and hit the ground).
The movie has the usual sound, acting, and editing sloppiness of low-budget films (it was made for about $10,000, according to Luna), and there isn’t a single character that doesn’t suffer from some sort of idiocy: the cops are crooked and dumb, the guys are losers, and the women are either dumb or bitches. But the movie also has moments of clarity, especially in the apparently ad-libbed segments (Luna says “about 30 percent” of the film was improvised, and I believe him).
And then there is James Ponce as mega-loser Bradley Carlyle. He is a sort of Latino Owen Wilson and, with him, it’s all in his eyes. At times you can’t tell whether he is sad or smiling, because he always has that absent-minded look on his face. But his eyes have a subtle way of communicating feelings, and he communicated a lot. And kept communicating. And communicating.
Deep into it, the movie wasn’t going anywhere. The bank robbers (or Luna) were taking forever, and the main characters seemed to be enjoying their unjust detention in the Redwood Police Department (a fictitious town; the movie was shot in Floresville, and the city’s actual Mayor had a small cameo role). I wasn’t buying it.
But just as I was getting ready to throw the TV set out the window, boom. Everything fell into place in the most unexpected manner. I had to smile then, because I felt I was part of the joke of the movie and felt as dumb as the dumbest character.
Too bad Luna needed to use narration and flashbacks to achieve that convergence. The easy way out, à la Shyamalan: have your characters explain everything you can’t show solely by pure filmmaking narrative. While it came too late, I still didn’t see it coming. That’s one of the reasons my TV is still intact, and I don’t have to invest in a new window. •
Amounting to Nothing
Dir. Johnny Luna; writ. Johnny Luna; feat. James Ponce, Carmen Ivette, Manny Santana, Jay Pennington, Melraye Finley, Tommy Munoz. (NR)
Doors, stand-up comedy at 6pm
Movie at 7:30pm
Fri, July 29, and Sat July 30
339 W Josephine