Review: ‘Bad Detectives,’ starring Dralla Aierken and Freya Tingley

July 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dralla Aierken and Freya Tingley in “Bad Detectives” (Photo courtesy of Mutiny Pictures)

“Bad Detectives”

Directed by Presley Paras

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “Bad Detectives” features a predominantly Asian and white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two young women with opposite personalities inherit their grandfathers’ detective agency and have conflicts while trying to solve the mystery behind their grandfathers’ deaths. 

Culture Audience: “Bad Detectives” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dull, amateurish detective movies with horrible acting.

Steven Chan in “Bad Detectives” (Photo courtesy of Mutiny Pictures)

“Bad Detectives” should’ve been titled “Bad Acting.” The cast members’ stilted and boring performances are among this amateurly made thriller’s many problems. Everything about this movie looks like a student film project that wouldn’t get a passing grade at a top film school. The best thing about this horrible movie is that it’s mercifully only 72 minutes long.

Directed by Presley Paras and written by Chris Johnson, “Bad Detectives” is the first feature film for Paras and Johnson. And this lack of experience shows, because everything about this movie looks like it was made by filmmakers who don’t really know what they’re doing. “Bad Detectives” (formerly titled “Year of the Detectives”) attempts to be a stylish, noir-influenced thriller with touches of comedy, but the movie goes in all the wrong directions and ends up falling flat.

And the acting is just excruciatingly terrible. It’s one of those movies where people in the cast just recite their lines and can’t make the conversations look natural. Sometimes, the acting has emotions that are over-exaggerated like a cheesy soap opera. And sometimes, the acting lacks the necessary emotions, such that the actors might as well be portraying zombies. The sound mixing is often uneven, with soundtrack music that blares too loudly in some scenes.

And the so-called “detectives” in the movie do more arguing than any real detective work. Instead of investigating and finding clues themselves, these “detectives” have scenarios where other people randomly show up to reveal information in badly written dialogue. And the action/fight scenes are incredibly basic and boring. This movie also has no suspense and couldn’t even craft a good mystery.

The movie’s two central characters are Nicole “Nic” O’Connell (played by Freya Tingley) and Ping Liu (played by Dralla Aierken), who are—cliché alert—completely opposite in their personalities but must work together for a shared goal. Nic is a foul-mouthed hothead who likes to blurt out things like “Fuck you!” for no apparent reason. Ping, who is polite and level-headed, is more likely to want to find a peaceful solution to a problem rather than starting a fight.

The first five minutes of the movie don’t have any talking and just have over-indulgent montages of the Los Angeles setting where the story takes place. Nic, who’s a U.S. Army veteran, is shown walking through Chinatown with a backpack. A man, who’s later revealed to be a thug named Wu (played by Stephen A. Chang), seems to be following Nic without her knowing it.

Nic arrives at the O’Connell & Liu Detective Agency, which is a dormant business because the two owners have recently died. The door to this small, dimly lit office is open, and so Nic pulls out a knife in case there’s an unwelcome intruder inside. A woman namd Ping Liu (played by Dralla Aierken) is sitting at a desk inside the office.

Ping says to Nic, “You can never sneak up on me. You’re still too loud.” Nic says, “Fuck you!” Ping replies, “I’m not here to fight.” Nic snarls, “Neither am I.” Ping responds, “Then why are you carrying a knife?”

This is the type of empty dialogue that litters the entire movie. Nic spends most of the movie being angry at Ping, but there’s no explanation for why Nic has so much hostility toward Ping. During one conversaton, Nic inexplicably shouts at Ping: “I served my country, bitch!” There is so much unexplained backstory to these characters, it’s like “Bad Detectives” is a sequel to a movie that never existed.

Nic’s and Ping’s recently deceased paternal grandfathers are the two people who started the detective agency. In a meeting with an estate lawyer named Mr. Strathmore (played by Jim Meskimen), Nic and Ping find out that these grandfathers made Nic and Ping the sole beneficiaries of everything the grandfathers owned. The two women have inherited the detective agency, the building where it’s located and—to their dismay—a lot of debts.

Mr. Strathmore advises Nic and Ping to sell the building to pay off the debts, but they ignore the advice. That’s because Nic and Ping become preoccupied with trying to prove that their grandfathers’ deaths weren’t accidental. The grandfathers were found dead together on the street, after apparently falling from a building. However, there are clues that this fall was no accident.

Mr. Strathmore also gives Nic and Ping a postcard with a photo of a Chinese figurine. Nic and Ping later hunt for this figurine, which is a rare artifact that was stolen and is linked to the mystery of their grandfathers’ deaths. This “treasure hunt” aspect of the story brings no surprises, and it’s handled in a very tedious manner.

Shortly after Nic and Ping first meet with Mr. Strathmore, a mysterious man in a business suit greets them in the office waiting room. His name is Tony Chow (played by Steven Chang), and he says that he used to work with Nic’s and Ping’s grandfathers. Tony also says that he has important confidential information to share with Nic and Ping. They agree to meet at the detective agency.

At the detective agency, Tony tells Nic and Ping that he currently works for a wealthy politician named Assemblyman Wei (played by Victor J. Ho), who initiated a “hurried foreclosure” in the building where the detective agency is located. Tony says that Assemblyman Wei was tied to a paper trail that would prove his corruption in something that the grandfathers were investigating. It’s implied that Tony is a “whistleblower” whose life will be in danger if Assemblyman Wei finds out that Tony leaked this information.

Tony hands Nic and Wei an autopsy report that shows that the grandfathers had blunt force trauma and broken noses when their bodies were found lying face up on the ground. Their deaths suspiciously appear to be from homicide, not an accidental fall. Tony also says that he knows that the grandfathers were on their way to uncovering something important in the Assemblyman Wei investigation when they died.

Predictably, Nic and Wei want their grandfathers’ cause of death to be re-classified as homicide. And so, the rest of the movie is about them trying to prove it and tracking down this mysterious figurine. The man named Wu who was stalking Nic in the beginning of the movie works for Assemblyman Wei, and he does a lot of Assemblyman Wei’s dirty work in beating up and threatening people.

Nic and Ping are two of the people who are assaulted by Wu, who ambushes Nic and Ping, and beats them up when they’re alone in the detective agency office. After the assault and before he leaves, Wu takes a sip from a coffee cup that was on an office desk and says with a smirk, “Not bad. Goes down easy.” It’s an example of this movie’s cringeworthy attempt at comedy.

There are supporting characters that show up randomly in different parts of the story. Three middle-aged associates of the detective agency lurk around, even though they apparently don’t have jobs at the agency anymore. This lunkhead trio consists of Ralph (played by Bob McCollum), Jack (played by Vic Polizos) and Joe (played by Joe Sachem), who are nothing more than the Three Stooges of this story.

Ralph, Jack and Joe are first seen rummaging around the office while Nic and Ping argue. The only reason why Ralph, Jack and Joe are in this movie is to spoonfeed clues to Nic and Ping about the grandfathers’ activities. Nic and Ping don’t actually do a lot of research themselves.

There’s also an art gallery owner named Constance Lane (played by Susan Priver), who has knowledge about the mystery figurine. Constance is supposed to be an enigmatic femme fatale type, but she’s just bland and robotic. Her role in this mystery is so obvious as soon as she meets Nic and Ping for the first time.

Nic and Ping are at Constance’s gallery and inspecting a figurine that looks exactly like the one that was stolen. Constance conveniently walks right up to these two strangers and tells them the history of the figurine and introduces herself as the gallery owner. Constance might as well as well have worn a sign that reads, “I’m Probably Involved in Art Fraud.”

And there are two police detectives named Detective Wong (played by Ping Wu) and Detective Weezul (played by Paul Rae), who always show up unannounced at the detective agency. Their only purpose in the movie is to be condescending to Nic and Ping, because they think these two women can’t possibly have what it takes to be “real” detectives. The characters of Detective Wong and Detective Weezul are written in a very heavy-handed and obtuse way.

Viewers are supposed to believe that these busy police detectives have nothing better to do with their time but hang around the detective agency, wait for Ping and Liu to show up, and then insult them like childish bullies in a schoolyard. In one scene, Detective Wong and Detective Weezul are in Nic and Ping’s office doing their usual taunting when Detective Weezul picks up a small vase, as if he might break it. Ping responds by saying, “Break it and I’ll break you.”

That’s one of many examples of the awful lines of dialogue in the movie. In another scene in the movie, the chief villain tells Nic that she will be heavily rewarded if she finds the figurine. She replies, “That’s not justice.” The villain says, “What is justice without vengeance? I hope you never have to feel my vengeance.” The substandard acting makes this type of dreadful dialogue even worse.

“Bad Detectives” makes an attempt to have eye-catching cinematography, especially with the aerial shots of the city. But with drones being able to capture these images on camera just as well as humans can, there’s really nothing outstanding about the movie’s cinematography that deserves praise. All the gimmicky camera angles in the world still can’t erase the stink of this movie’s bad directing, moronic screenwriting and awkward acting.

Mutiny Pictures released “Bad Detectives” on digital and VOD on June 22, 2021.

Review: ‘The Sonata,’ starring Freya Tingley

January 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Freya Tingley in "The Sonata"
Freya Tingley in “The Sonata” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“The Sonata”

Directed by Andrew Desmond

Culture Representation: Taking place in England and France, “The Sonata” is a horror flick that centers mostly on people in the European world of classical music, a culture that is almost exclusively Caucasian.

Culture Clash: A supernatural ghost story, “The Sonata” uses the age-old conflict of good versus evil, with a minor subtext about resentments that working-class people can have for people in the upper class.

Culture Audience: “The Sonata” will primarily appeal to people who have the time to watch a B-movie that covers a lot of the same tropes that many other horror movies have already covered.

Freya Tingley in “The Sonata” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

When it comes to horror movies about evil spirits, “The Sonata” follows the formula so closely that horror fans can easily predict what’s going to happen. Directed by Andrew Desmond, who co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur Morin, “The Sonata” checks the boxes of many familiar clichés used by movies of this ilk. Attractive young lead actress? Check. Spooky old house? Check. Nightmarish sightings of dead people? Check. The first two acts of the movie are far superior to the third and final act, which devolves into a disappointing dud. But if you must sit through this movie, here’s what to expect, without revealing any spoilers.

Rose Fisher (played by Freya Tingley), a British woman in her late 20s, is a talented and intensely focused professional solo violinist whose life revolves around her work. From the first scene, we find out that she’s an emotionally distant loner with no family ties. When her agent/manager Charles Vernais (played by Simon Abkarian) interrupts her rehearsal to inform her that her father has died, her response is: “I don’t have time for this right now.”

It turns out there’s a reason for Rose’s cold reaction to the news of her father’s death: He abandoned her and her mother (who is now deceased) when she was just 14 months old. The death of her father also exposes the secret that Rose has been keeping for years: Her father was the famous composer Richard Marlowe (played by Rutger Hauer), who disappeared at the height of his fame and became a recluse in France. Because of his abrupt departure from the spotlight, many people had assumed he had died years earlier.

Rose never really knew her father, and he never kept in touch with her and her mother. Therefore, Rose doesn’t really feel sad that he’s died, and she doesn’t even ask how he passed away. (It’s shown in the beginning of the movie that he set himself on fire.) Before his death, she had also kept her father’s identity a secret from everyone (including Charles) in her line of work because she didn’t want to trade in on his name to advance her career. It should be noted that Dutch actor Hauer, who died in July 2019, has screen time in the movie that’s less than 10 minutes, so it would be a mistake for people to think he has a lead role in this movie.

Richard Marlowe did not leave a will, and Rose is his only heir. She finds out that even though he didn’t have much money, he did leave behind his secluded mansion in France and all of his copyrighted work, so Rose inherits it all. Rose decides to bail out on some work commitments, in order to travel to France to check out the mansion. Charles is naturally upset by her decision, and there’s further tension in the relationship when Rose tells him that a big agency has offered to sign her. Ultimately, she sticks with Charles, who is (as he points out to her) the only person in her life who’s like a family member to her.

Early on in the movie, it’s established that Rose is a loner, so it actually makes sense that she has no qualms about staying in an isolated mansion by herself. Soon after arriving, she meets the housekeeper Thérèse (played by Catherine Schaub-Abkarian), who goes to the mansion once a week to clean and do other domestic duties. Thérèse tells Rose that when her father was alive, he kept to himself and was despised by the townspeople, who suspected that he was behind the disappearance of a local boy, who has remained missing. Thérèse also tells Rose how her father died.

While looking through some items in her father’s study, Rose finds a hand-written sonata in a locked desk drawer. Because her father’s initials are signed at the end of the sonata, she rightfully assumes that he was the one who wrote it. There are also four mysterious symbols on the sheets of paper. It’s easy to figure out that these symbols have something to do with the dark and foreboding atmosphere in and around the mansion. When Rose plays the sonata, she sees a shadowy adult figure, which just as quickly disappears. Thus begins her sightings of ghostly figures (some more menacing than others) in her nightmares as well as in her waking hours. It’s clear that playing the sonata has unleashed something evil.

Meanwhile, Rose tells Charles about the secret sonata, which was her father’s last work, and sends it to him to take a look at it. Charles does some research on the Internet and finds a video of an old TV interview that Marlowe gave about a masterpiece that he was working on at the time. Figuring out that the hidden sonata is the masterpiece in question, Charles goes behind Rose’s back and consults with some industry experts to feel out the market value of the sonata and to ask if they know what the mysterious symbols mean. There’s an ulterior motive to these consultations: Charles (a former classical musician and a recovering alcoholic) is in a precarious financial situation, since Rose (his only client) still might end up leaving him for a big agency, so he’s looking for a way to cash in on the sonata for some financial security.

While Charles consults with the enigmatic Sir Victor Ferdinand (played by James Faulkner), a former colleague of Marlowe’s, Sir Victor tells Charles the true meaning behind the four symbols, which represent power, immortality, appearance and duality. He also reveals that a French secret society created these symbols in the 19th century, and the society had certain beliefs on how to conjure up the devil.

The best parts of “The Sonata” are the production design by Audrius Dumikas, the art direction by Janis Karklins and the cinematography by Janis Eglitis, because they all convincingly evoke the Gothic atmosphere of an old haunted mansion in the French countryside. The film’s musical score by Alexis Maingaud is also effective in eliciting moods in all the right places. Less impressive are the movie’s basic visual effects, which look like something you’d see in a mid-budget TV show. The actors do a competent job with this trite and sometimes problematic script. The melodramatic turn of one of the characters toward the end of the movie is just a little too over-the-top and is almost laughable.

If you’re looking for a horror movie with some mild scares and compelling set designs, then “The Sonata” is worth watching. Just don’t expect to see any scares that are original or an ending that is particularly satisfying.

Screen Media Films released “The Sonata” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on January 10, 2020.

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