The Movie Waffler First Look Review - <i>BUDDY HUTCHINS</i> | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - BUDDY HUTCHINS

One man's mid-life crisis turns violent.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jared Cohn

Starring: Jamie Kennedy, Sally Kirkland, Sara Malakul Lane, 

"The cynicism that powers Buddy Hutchins is relentless, but also somewhat flip and slippery, as if the film itself is unsure whether to pity Buddy or play his plight for laughs."

The decision to cast Jamie Kennedy as the titular character of pessimistic comedy Buddy Hutchins is a pertinent one. A decade ago, Kennedy was, if not a household name, then an actor of some eminence; bringing his geeky teen edge to massive hits like Romeo and Juliet and, of course, immortalising horror nerd Randy in the Scream saga. The guy even had his own show, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, which ran in the early noughties. But times change, things move on, and now Kennedy finds himself as the hang-dog lead of this low budget curio, playing a character who was once a gifted player in a rock band, but is now the ex-alcoholic owner of a failing launderette, and is openly hated by his son, stolen from by his co-workers, and cheated on by his wife. To paraphrase Talking Heads, Buddy may well ask himself, did he get here?
Billed as a black comedy, Buddy Hutchins is a mid-life crisis movie in the dark tradition of cult faves The Swimmer and American Beauty; films that feature men (always men) of a certain vintage and middle class standing discovering that suburban family existence ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, with the narrative charting their correlative breakdown at this revelation. Buddy Hutchins plays almost as a satire of traditional family values, as early in the film, we are introduced to Buddy’s more successful gay brother, Troy (Steve Hanks). Troy is suave, rich and enjoys a very eventful sex life, the polar opposite of poor old Buddy, whose adherence to family life has brought him nothing but heartache and disillusionment: his wife is putting one on his best mate, and another ex is after alimony! The distortion of Buddy’s life is deepened by the effective, noirish lighting of the film’s interiors; all too bright IKEA lamps and thick shading. With his alcoholism stalking him from these shadows, and his debts closing in, we get the sense that Buddy is heading towards the sort of last reel blow up that there is no coming back from.
Buddy’s alcoholism is established early on in the film, and the metaphor of abstinence/putting away childish things is apposite- Buddy used to like doing something a lot, had to stop, and change, but nonetheless misses that something every day. That’s the problem with booze/being young though, you can’t cane it forever: everyone has to grow up. Kennedy portrays Buddy as pathetic, but he is rarely sympathetic in this respect, as his passivity gives us little reason to feel for his situation. Similarly, the cynicism that powers Buddy Hutchins is relentless, but also somewhat flip and slippery, as if the film itself is unsure whether to pity Buddy or play his plight for laughs. The confusion of tone isn’t helped by the frequently awkward acting and occasional scenes that don’t quite come off- Buddy harbours dreams of getting back with his rock band (of course), and is persuaded to knock out a guitar solo by Troy and co. The solo is decidedly average, but everyone whops and claps as if Santana himself was in the room. This is the problem with our relationship with Buddy; we are told that he is a great musician, just as the film expects us to root for him simply by virtue of presenting him as an identifiably average underdog, but there is no real basis for either paradigm.
The lack of development afforded to other characters is another feature that damages our empathy for Buddy. The women in the film are all duplicitous harpies, save for Buddy’s daughter, who is idolised as an innocent ‘angel’, and there is a particularly uncomfortable racial stereotype in the form of one ex’s new partner/bounty hunter to boot. When Buddy does eventually embark upon the murderous spree promised by the film’s cover art, it’s difficult to wholeheartedly get behind him in the way we’re supposed to, as his situation lacks credibility. There are other intriguing features of Buddy’s psyche which are hinted at: his curious fascination with his brother’s sexual orientation, and how it crosses over into his attitude towards women (he confronts his wife’s new fella with a graphic interrogation concerning whether she allowed him to perform anal sex). If these aspects had been explored, then perhaps Buddy Hutchins would have something inventive to say; as it is, the film is as predictable as Buddy’s woeful day to day.