Review: ‘Chop Chop,’ starring Jake Taylor, Atala Arce, David Harper, Mikael Mattsson, Jeremy Jordan, James McCabe and Nicholas Correnti

October 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jake Taylor and Atale Arce in “Chop Chop” (Photo courtesy of Kamikaze Dogfight/Gravitas Ventures)

“Chop Chop”

Directed by Rony Patel

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror flick “Chop Chop” has almost all-white cast (with one Latina) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife go on the run after they get involved in a killing spree.

Culture Audience: “Chop Chop” will appeal primarily to people who have the tolerance to watch any horror movie, no matter how terribly made it is.

David Harper in “Chop Chop” (Photo courtesy of Kamikaze Dogfight/Gravitas Ventures)

There are some movies that are so bad that they’re not just excruciating to watch. They’re also the types of movies that are so pointless and nonsensical that even describing them seems like a waste of time. The dreadfully dull and horribly acted “Chop Chop” is one of those movies.

“Chop Chop” is the feature-film debut of Rony Patel (who co-wrote the “Chop Chop” screenplay with Andrew Erickson), and it’s the kind of movie that’s so amateurish that it probably wouldn’t get a passing grade at a mediocre film school. There isn’t one single redeeming quality of “Chop Chop,” except the feeling of relief that it’s over by any viewers who’ve managed to stay awake to watch the movie from beginning to end.

“Chop Chop” is an extremely derivative horror movie that is neither scary nor suspenseful in any way, shape or form. The only reasons why it’s a horror movie are because of the bloody murders and because of the movie’s creepy characters, who are actually more annoying than fearsome. There are some horror flicks that are bad, but at least they’re entertaining because the filmmakers know the movie is bad and have fun with it anyway. “Chop Chop” doesn’t have this self-awareness.

The sloppily written story of “Chop Chop” essentially comes to down to this premise: A married couple named Chuck Matthews (played by Jake Taylor) and Olivia “Liv” Matthews (played by Atala Arce) are home at their apartment one night when an unexpected fateful encounter with a pizza delivery guy sends them on a badly conceived journey where people are kidnapped, assaulted and sometimes killed.

The movie is filled with long, awkward pauses between dialogue. All of the characters often stand around as if in a daze, move slowly, and do things that make no sense whatsoever. The pizza guy is hinted at being someone who’s sinister (he’s seen in the beginning of the movie carrying a plastic bag that seems to have a bloody head in it), but viewers never find out for sure what the pizza guy’s story is, because he dies in the beginning of the movie. In fact, no one in this movie has any backstory or real personality.

The death of the pizza guy, whose name is Teddy (played by David Harper), happens when he shows up unexpectedly one night at the apartment of Chuck and Olivia. When the doorbell rings, Chuck is on the toilet and listening to music on his headphones. Olivia answers the door and tells Teddy (who looks like he’s an Uncle Fester reject from the Addams Family) that they didn’t order any pizza.

As Olivia is about to shut the door, Teddy prevents her. At this point, most people in a situation like this would forcibly shut the door because it’s starting to look like a possible home invasion. But Olivia just stands there and stares at Teddy, while he says of the pizza box he’s holding in his hand, “It’s for you.”

Olivia finally manages to shut the door, but just seconds later, she sees Teddy on the living room couch, watching TV with the remote control in his hand. He gives her a sleazy smile and says, “I have abilities.” How did Freddy get in the apartment so quickly? Is he a supernatural being? “Chop Chop” is so dumb, it never answers those questions.

It isn’t long before Freddy has a meat cleaver in his hand and is about to attack Olivia, but she stabs him in the leg with a kitchen knife. Chuck comes out of the bathroom and overpowers Freddy and hits Freddy until the pizza guy is unconscious on the floor. Instead of calling 911, Chuck says, “God, I’m out of shape.”

And then, Chuck and Olivia talk about what just happened and still don’t call for help. If the movie had a campy or satirical tone, it might be easier to take. But the sense of humor in the film is almost non-existent. “Chop Chop” also has an out-of-place music score that sounds like it came from an obscure, cheesy detective movie from the 1970s.

It comes as no surprise that Freddy suddenly regains consciousness and is about to attack again while he’s lying on the floor. Olivia steps on Freddy’s neck, which kills him. While Chuck thinks that they should call the police, Olivia is completely against the idea. And then, “Chop Chop” takes the point of no return into the Garbage Dump of Irredeemably Bad Horror Movies. Chuck and Olivia, who could easily claim self-defense in this killing, decide not to call for help. Instead, they decide to dismember Freddy’s body in their shower.

Meanwhile, a plainclothes police officer named Detective Minaya (played by Jeremy Jordan, not to be confused with the Broadway/TV actor Jeremy Jordan) has been looking for the pizza guy, who is apparently suspected of murder. He has the pizza guy’s description and license plate number. Detective Minaya does not have a cop partner in this movie, not just because this low-budget film probably couldn’t afford to hire another actor, but mainly because this movie has too many other problems with its illogical plot.

Chuck and Olivia are suddenly seen in their car in a dark and empty outdoor parking lot. And who happens to roll up in his car and ask what they’re doing there? Detective Minaya, of course. Without giving away too much of this movie’s almost non-existent plot, Olivia ends up hitting Detective Minaya on the head with a tire iron, and Chuck and Olivia put him in the back of the trunk because the cop appears to be dead.

And so begins Chuck and Olivia’s outlaw life on the run, where they encounter more boring and stupid people just like them. Chuck calls a shady female friend named Rex (played by Natasha Missick) to help him and Olivia. Rex tells Chuck to pick up a package from a lowlife named Jeffrey (played by James McCabe), and then Chuck has to deliver the package somewhere else.

When Chuck arrives at Jeffrey’s scuzzy place, he’s followed around suspiciously by Jeffrey’s jealous boyfriend (played by Nicholas Correnti), who keeps asking Chuck: “You ain’t fucked my man, right?” While at Jeffrey’s place, Chuck meets someone named Butch (also played by Harper), who looks exactly like the pizza guy Teddy. (Butch and Teddy are supposed to be twins.)

Jeffrey describes Butch as “the best sword craftsman in the business.” It’s at this point that you know that Butch is going to pull out a sword at some point in the movie. But before that happens, Chuck leaves Jeffrey’s place with the “package,” which is really the size of a cologne box, because he has to deliver it to another sleazeball named Clark (played by Mikael Mattson), who lives on an isolated farm.

The movie doesn’t get any better, as it slogs from one tedious scene to the next. Even the violence in the movie is monotonous. In addition to the soulless acting, “Chop Chop” has nothing but cringeworthy dialogue. At one point, Chuck and Olivia are held captive somewhere, and their kidnapper says to Olivia: “I can’t wait to slice you like string cheese.” And then he makes a slurping noise. “Chop Chop” is the worst type of mindless horror movie, because instead of viewers reacting with screams or chills, viewers are more likely to react with yawns and snores.

Kamikaze Dogfight and Gravitas Ventures released “Chop Chop” on digital and VOD on October 20, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Buffaloed’

May 1, 2019

by Carla Hay

Zoey Deutch in "Buffaloed"
Zoey Deutch in “Buffaloed” (Photo by Guy Godfree)

“Buffaloed”

Directed by Tanya Wexler

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

What’s an ambitious girl to do when she needs money to go to an Ivy League university but she can’t afford it? Turn to a life of crime, of course. That’s pretty much the story of Peg Dahl (manically played by Zoey Deutch) in the over-the-top comedy “Buffaloed.” The movie gets its name from Peg’s hometown of Buffalo, New York, where she was raised by a working-class, single mother named Kathy (played by Judy Greer), who doesn’t think Peg needs an Ivy League education to be a success. From an early age, Peg has had an obsession about escaping from Buffalo by attending an Ivy League school and becoming a rich and successful businessperson.

Peg’s dream starts to come true when she’s accepted into an Ivy League school, but she panics after her mother is turned down for financial aid. (Her mother supposedly makes too much money to qualify.) Peg presumably doesn’t have outstanding-enough grades to qualify for an academic scholarship either. And, of course, there would be no “Buffaloed” movie if Peg did what most people do when they can’t afford college tuition—take out a loan. So with no way to afford the tuition and with the deadline approaching to pay the tuition, Peg uses desperate measures and begins selling counterfeit tickets at Buffalo Bills games. Most movies at this point would have had Peg get away with the crime, head off to school, and continue to cook up schemes to pay for her tuition. But this is not that film.

Instead, Peg gets busted early on in the film, and she gets sentenced to 40 months in prison. Goodbye, Ivy League. One of the scenes that shows that “Buffaloed” is taking the campy, not-to-be-taken-seriously route is the chaotic environment of Peg’s trial, where the judge is eating sauce-covered Buffalo wings on the bench. When Peg gets out of prison, she is bitter, disillusioned and in debt. Her legal bills total $50,000, and being a criminal convicted of fraud has greatly reduced her chances of getting a decent job.

So let’s get this straight: Before she went to prison, Peg supposedly wasn’t able to afford an expensive Ivy League education, but she didn’t want to take out a student loan. Now she’s got $50,000 in legal bills because apparently she didn’t want to use a public defender, which is what you’re supposed to do if you can’t afford an expensive attorney. Right. Let’s move on.

Enter a character who opens a window of opportunity for Peg: Sal Scarpetta (played by “Buffaloed” screenwriter Brian Sacca, one of the film’s producers), who works for the town’s top debt-collection agency, which is hounding Peg to pay her debts. Peg and Sal first communicate over the phone when he calls her about her debt. Since the collection agency already knows about her ex-con background, and Peg finds out how much money she could be making if she worked there, it’s not long before she shows up at the agency and asks for a job.

Sal’s boss is Josh “Wizz” Wisnewski (played by Jai Courtney, hamming it up in the villain role), who runs the sleazy agency. Wizz is a sexist bully who’s reluctant to hire Peg in his aggressive, male-dominated environment. But through persistence, Peg convinces Wizz to hire her, and she makes a deal with him to erase all of her debt if she can become the company’s top debt-collector in one month.

Peg soon finds out that Wizz’s operation engages in many illegal practices, including “double-dipping,” a term used to keep billing someone for debt that has already been paid. Peg is so determined to become the top employee that she drives to Ohio to visit an elderly woman with a 20-year-debt (and Peg even brings cupcakes as part of her manipulation), because she figures that the old lady is a prime target for Peg to pull a double-dipping scam on her.

The rest of the movie veers off into a number of twists and turns, including Peg going to war with Wizz for reasons that won’t be spoiled in this review. It’s enough to say that Wizz’s “mob boss” mentality and use of extreme intimidation tactics are examples of the caricature-like silliness in this movie. Somehow, Peg’s mother Kathy, Peg’s brother JJ (played by Noah Reid) and Wizz’s brother Mitch (played by Nicholas Carella) get pulled into these shenanigans. There’s also a subplot where Peg gets romantically involved with the assistant district attorney who prosecuted her: Graham Feany (played by Jermaine Fowler), who knows she’s involved in illegal money-making schemes, but he looks the other way as long as she doesn’t tell him all the details.

“Buffaloed” director Tanya Wexler keeps a madcap pace throughout the movie that works in some areas and doesn’t work in others. Deutch (who is one of the film’s producers) takes on the role of Peg with admirable gusto. However, since Peg can’t seem to get out of Buffalo (something that’s she’s been wanting to do her whole life), and she gets caught early on for a felony crime, Peg is not as smart as the movie wants you to think she is. Unfortunately, the third act is such a mess that only a major rewrite could save the film.

The tone of “Buffaloed” is very uneven: It starts off as a dark comedy, and then turns giddy and almost sentimental in the end. “Buffaloed” could have had much better social commentary on the stresses of paying for college tuition and the extreme lengths people might go to get money for it. Instead, it devolves into an inconsistent whirling mix of under-developed characters and ill-conceived plotlines, just like an electric blender that turns a hodgepodge of ingredients into mush.

 UPDATE: Magnolia Pictures will release “Buffaloed” in select U.S. theaters and VOD on February 14, 2020.