Review: ‘First Date’ (2021), starring Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Nicole Berry, Samuel Ademola, Scott E. Noble, Leah Finity and Jesse Janzen

July 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Shelby Duclos and Tyson Brown in “First Date” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“First Date” (2021)

Directed by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed California city, the comedy film “First Date” features a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: On the night that a socially awkward teenager has his first date with his dream girl, things go terribly wrong when he crosses paths with some crazy drug dealers, erratic cops and other assorted weirdos.

Culture Audience: “First Date” will appeal primarily to people who like watching movies with despicable characters getting violent with each other.

Samantha Laurenti, Jake Howard, Ryan Quinn Adams, Angela Barber and Jesse Janzen in “First Date” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“First Date” is the type of time-wasting movie where characters seem to be competing over who can be the most obnoxious. It’s a comedy that’s not very funny. The violence in the last third of the film is repetitive and monotonous. It seems like the filmmakers were trying too hard to emulate Quentin Tarantino films, by combining dark comedy with graphic violence. But the problem with trying to copy a unique and influential artist’s style is that it can come across as inauthentic, forced and ultimately unappealing. This overly derivative filmmaking and clumsy attempts at comedy are why “First Date” is a lackluster dud.

Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp make their feature-film debut as screenwriters and directors with “First Date.” It’s not a completely horrible film, but it misses the mark in too many ways for it to be considered impressive. In the production notes for “First Date,” Crosby and Knapp say that they consider Tarantino to be one of their major influences. But a lot of wannabe Tarantino filmmakers can’t quite achieve what Tarantino has: genuine talent at screenwriting. (And he’s got the Oscars to prove it.)

A lot of filmmakers who tend to do “look at these wacky criminals” type of movies seem to get so caught up in staging violent scenes that any attempt at great screenwriting seems to be forgotten or sidelined in the process. Even though “First Date” does not have the type of movie protagonist (a hardened cynic) that Tarantino usually has in his movies, the hapless teenager at the center of “First Date” is cloned from the same formula used by countless other teen movies where a nerdy guy wants to have a romance with his “long shot” girl crush and has to go through a series of humiliations and challenges to win her heart.

In “First Date,” which takes place in an unnamed California city, the shy and insecure teen pining over his dream girl is Mike (played by Tyson Brown), a student in high school. Mike is about 17 years old, and he’s infatuated with Kelsey (played by Shelby Duclos), who attends the same school and is about the same age as Mike. In her spare time, Kelsey likes to practice boxing in her garage. And she doesn’t hesitate to sarcastically reject her neighbor/schoolmate Chet (played by Brandon Kraus), an arrogant and dimwitted hotshot, in his attempts to ask Kelsey out on a date.

However, Kelsey’s not so tough when it comes to her domineering parents (played by Darrell P. Miller and Desalene Jones), who don’t have names in the movie and who like to yell at her for no good reason. Kelsey pouts and sulks when her parents are gruff with her, but she ultimately does what they tell her to do. By contrast, Mike’s unnamed parents (played by NJ Brown and Keldamuzik) are very lenient to the point where they don’t really keep track of what’s going on in his life.

“First Date” is a series of contrived scenarios to make Mike embarrassed and uncomfortable. It starts with the first time he’s seen on screen, when he and his know-it-all best friend Brett (played by Josh Fesler) are riding their bicycles down their neighborhood street. The garage door at Kelsey’s house is open, so anyone passing by can see that Kelsey is boxing in the garage.

As Mike ogles her, Chet barrels down the street in his black Porsche and accidentally hits Mike, who takes a tumble on the street in front of Kelsey. Mike doesn’t have any injuries from this fall, but his confidence is bruised because Kelsey has seen everything. Chet makes sure that Mike isn’t physically hurt before admonishing Mike to be more alert when he’s in the middle of the street. Mike feels a little better when he sees Kelsey turn down Chet’s request for a date.

Back at Mike’s house, Mike and Brett are in Mike’s room, as Mike worries about how he can talk to Kelsey. Brett reveals that he has Kelsey’s phone number, which leads to Mike having a nervous and awkward conversation with Kelsey over the phone. And to Mike’s surprise, Kelsey is the one who makes the first move, by asking him if he wants to hang out with her later that evening. Mike immediately agrees to this date.

Mike’s elation soon turns to panic, when his parents tell him that they’re both driving to Las Vegas that day for a short getaway trip. Mike is unhappy about this trip because the car that his parents are driving to Las Vegas is the only car that the family has, so Mike is desperate to find another car to use for his first date with Kelsey. Brett has convinced Mike that Mike will look like a loser if Mike doesn’t have a car for Mike and Kelsey’s first date.

Apparently, no one ever told Mike that anyone who would lose interest in a first date, just because someone on the date temporarily doesn’t have use of a car, is someone who’s too shallow to be a good love partner anyway. But there would be no “First Date” movie if Mike had any common sense. In fact, Mike is less than smart in a lot of decisions he makes throughout this story.

Brett pressures Mike to buy a car that Brett has found online. The car is being sold by a private seller, and the asking price is $3,000. To make this purchase, Mike uses all of his savings, plus cash that he borrows without permission (in other words, steals) from his parents while the parents are away in Las Vegas. Mike leaves a note to his parents to tell them that he’ll pay them back for the money that he took from them.

When Mike shows up at the car seller’s home, he finds out that the seller—a sleazy middle-aged guy named Dennis (played by Scott E. Noble)—has already sold the advertised car to someone else. However, Dennis steers a very gullible Mike into the garage and convinces Mike to buy a beat-up and dirty blue 1965 Chrysler New Yorker instead. Like a fool, Mike pays the full $3,000 in cash for this ramshackle car. This clunker automobile is supposed to be the source of a lot of comedy and anxiety in the movie, but the jokes and gags centered on the car are just so predictable.

It turns out that doing car sales scams isn’t Dennis’ only shady activity, because he gets kidnapped for the most obvious reason why people involved in illegal activities get kidnapped. Dennis’ trigger-happy wife Darla (played by Leah Finity), who’s an eccentric cat lady, also gets involved in the violent shenanigans. In a very cringeworthy scene with racial undertones, Mike goes back to Dennis’ house to return some jewelry that he found in the car’s glove compartment, and Darla immediately begins shooting at Mike. She keeps shooting, even after knowing Mike is unarmed, he tells her why he’s there, and he begs her to stop shooting.

And it should come as no surprise that Mike’s car isn’t the complete trash heap it appears to be, because too many people end up wanting to find this car. The movie’s opening scene shows a guy named Tony (played by Todd Goble) getting shot to death through his locked door when he suddenly tries to leave town. It’s eventually revealed what Tony did that set in motion the sequence of events that caused Mike to get caught in the crossfire of danger, just because he’s now the owner of the car.

Most of the movie involves Mike running into various kooky people who get in the way of him trying to make it on time to his first date with Kelsey. There are two aggressively intrusive cops named Sergeant Davis (played by Nicole Berry) and Deputy Duchovny (played by Samuel Ademola), who keep pulling Mike over and questioning him. Mike gets very nervous, which makes the cops even more suspicious of him.

There’s a horny elderly couple named Roger (played by Graham Green) and Thelma (played by Shari Schweigler), who convince Mike to let them drive the car while he’s in the back seat, because they used to own the car. It’s very easy to predict what will happen when these spouses get amorous while Mike tries not to look. It’s one of the few scenes in “First Date” that can be considered laugh-out-loud funny, but the gag eventually fizzles.

And then there’s the motley crew of criminals who are looking for something that was stolen from the gang. These aggravating, two-dimensional losers are a leader nicknamed The Captain (played by Jesse Janzen); hothead Vince (played by Ryan Quinn Adams); loose cannon Ricky (played by Angela Barber); and sex-crazed couple Donnie (played by Jake Howard) and Mikaylah (played by Samantha Laurenti). All of them spend their screen time yelling and arguing with each other in very irritating ways. A shootout scene toward the end of the film is unimaginative and goes on for too long.

“First Date” has several cast members who made their feature-film debut in the movie, including lead actor Brown. He shows enough talent that suggests that he’s capable of making a mark in the movie industry if he’s given better material and better direction. Unfortunately, his Mike character in “First Date” is written as stuck in a “shocked/embarrassed” mode for most of this tedious movie.

The characters in “First Date” have personalities that are too annoying or too bland. Characters don’t have to be likable all the time, but viewers should still have some respect for the protagonist, in order for the movie to work on some level. Mike makes so many dumb decisions, even for a sheltered teenager, that it’ll be hard for a lot of viewers to respect him. The best thing about “First Date” is that there’s very little chance that there will be a “Second Date” sequel.

Magnet Releasing released “First Date” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 2, 2021.

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