Swingin’ & Swappin’
Baudy, buddy raunch-com from talented L.A. troupe
By Andres Solar
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The young Angelino director-writer-producer Alex Magaña is one of the freshest, most intriguing indie voices in Hollywood today. I lauded the potential I saw in his previous V.O.D. piece 29 to Life (2018) right here on these pages.
The good news is that his latest on Amazon Prime, Slapped! The Movie, shows just as much potential, and in totally different aspects of filmmaking. Basically, the list of Magaña’s apparent talents has just doubled in length.
Okay, so I’m going to get the bad news about this most recent V.O.D. release out of the way, because the focus ought to be on what’s coming down the pike (or the Pacific Coast Highway, if you prefer) from the bunch at the helmer’s ACM Films imprint.
I’ll even take it a rare step further and tell you a bit about myself, as a disclaimer of sorts, so highly do I regard this burgeoning filmmaker Magaña. Firstly, Slapped! indicates over and over—as a raunchy buddy comedy with plenty of gross-out humor—that it’s aimed at a late-teens to early-20s audience. Your critic is 51 years old, and I’m certain I would have liked this picture a whole lot more if those digits were reversed. Secondly, for the most part, I review art films. In my own defense, I should say that I watch all kinds of movies, including vulgar comedies, and I happen to love more than a couple of them. But more on that later.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with traveling well-worn trails in movie-making. “It’s very difficult to be original,” the fabulous director and sexploitation queen Doris Wishman (Nude on the Moon, 1961) once told me. Makes sense. So, one hopes that a filmmaker who’s heavily influenced by another (director, film, genre…) will make it their own, thereby rendering the influence of the source material neutral when assessing the overall work.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with Slapped!, which the director himself describes as Freaky Friday (1976) meets American Pie (1999). Despite fine acting by the co-leads (Magaña as “Alex” and co-writer Matt Lowe as “Matt”), the “bodily switcheroo” nearly always feels like the old gimmick that it is. More than once while watching, I wished that they had written the film without the Freaky-Friday-for-bros device. The buddy chemistry between Alex and Matt always feels real and deep, so one would like to see them work together again sans the gimmicks.
Next, we look at the comedic aspects themselves, the heart of the debaucherous teen comedy (with the above disclaimer in mind). The attempts at gross-out humor are all misses here. The mere presence of semen and vomit on screen is not enough for laughs. It takes more work than that. For a fairly recent example, look at the successful potty humor of Bridesmaids (2011), and the “dress fitting” scene, in particular. The hilarity there derives from the gross-outs being only one element of the scene. The means, not the end.
There’s also at least one problematic instance of misfiring in the insult comedy department, involving a play on the word “Groupon.” On the other hand, in another scene, the fictional star of a YouTube cooking show says at one point that Sriracha can be substituted for ketchup as “a weird Mexican thing.” Though the latter isn’t hilarious either, here’s the difference: Insult humor only works when a character is doing it. When the movie itself is the source of the insult, the requisite comedic harmlessness vanishes.
Okay, so I’ve already hinted at some of the great stuff in Slapped!, and now I’ll elaborate on it. Magaña, we now know, is a heck of a good actor. So is Lowe, and we also know they work well as a team. Visually, the movie is a step up from 29 to Life. It’s also a bigger film, and it’s promising to see the filmmakers flexing that versatility.
Two scenes, one complex and the other relatively simple, are big standouts. The first and less surprisingly satisfying is a mushroom-trip sequence with fun makeup art, neon set design, and impressive practical & special effects. The second is my favorite, featuring the aforementioned YouTube star “E-Zee” (boldly played by Diana Marie—if ACM folks are reading this: cast her again!) The special effects, combined with Marie’s spicy character make for the best-feeling, funnest scene in the movie.
So, we yet await a film with start-to-finish excellence from Magaña & company. Happily, the talent and skills are all there.
2 of 5 stars