The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle Dir. David Russo

[Congenital Engine; 2010]

Styles: comedy/science fiction
Others: Pan with Us, Populi

After the ritual anticlimax that is New Year’s Eve, just about the most disheartening letdown ever is a movie with a breathtaking premise that fizzles in practice. Not to tumble into a bout of Platonic idealism, but you have to admit that it sucks when a movie turns out not to be the one over which you were trembling with anticipation, but is instead a trite, second-rate concoction that seems to waste all of its potential brilliance through poor execution. Writer/Director David Russo’s festival circuit indie (and first feature film) The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle may not have been one over which I was actually trembling, but it certainly promises far more than it delivers, which is surprising given its various kudos from noteworthy festivals and its Amazon rental price tag of $5.99.

Its concept is one that sounds, in my opinion, crazy awesome — or at the very least, awesomely crazed. In short, it goes something like this: A motley crew of afterhours janitors become unwitting guinea pigs for a suspect test batch of experimental self-heating cookies that cause the male subjects to become “pregnant” with bright blue mutant ichthyoids that must be born rectally. I mean, come on. Doesn’t that sound amazing? I remained convinced for the first 20 minutes, because the opening scene holds a lot of promise, too. A bottle of the message-bearing variety makes an intrepid time-lapse trek across the waterways of the globe to moor itself at a rocky promontory in Seattle, at the feet of a baby-faced lad dressed like a door-to-door Mormon recruiter who’s eating a banana and reading the Bible on his lunch break. Our young Joseph Smith spots the bottle and attempts a deep arabesque to reach for it, teeters on his shaky foothold, and performs a spectacular belly flop into the chilly lapping waves — but he scores the bottle. The message inside for which he risked hypothermia? “Fuck you,” written in Sharpie. It’s a great scene, but unfortunately for Little Dizzle, it’s the best scene in the movie.

Joseph Smith is actually Dory (Marshall Allman), a young but worn-thin data entry drone-cum-night janitor, and he’s not Mormon, or even Christian, but a serial soul searcher who samples religions like they’re Baskin-Robbins flavors of the month. This has the feel of autobiography from Russo (who, according to IMDB, was also a janitor for several years), but it’s done with an odd, discordant style that mixes oversimplified heavy handedness — as in, it’s pretty much the only thing you know about the character, so it defines him — with a subtlety that borders on trickery — as in, you might not figure out this most important thing about Dory (that he’s a cheap religion tourist) until 40 minutes into the movie. This is only a seeming paradox — the combination doesn’t actually work; it’s just annoying. It’s also annoying that Dory’s non-commitment to any one philosophy should be paired with a prudish abhorrence of “sin” without any context, and that, when the fish ‘n’ chips are down, he should suddenly be able to cull hacker genius from his data entry experience.

Russo’s other characters are similarly underwhelming and threadbare, including janitorial couple “Methyl” and “Ethyl,” the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of cliché Seattle grunge-punk culture, and Natasha Lyonne (minus the sexy whifro and adolescent worldliness of yore) as Tracy, the market research executive searching — mostly in vain — for a moral compass. As the not-so-intrepid janitors experience LSDish chemcookie freakouts, have black-bar-censored conference table coitus, make art installations out of toilets, cross-dress with zero enthusiasm, and give birth to blue butt babies, the film rambles, sidetracks, and sometimes just seems to forget where it’s going. Even though the idea of eccentric druggies getting addicted to cookies is funny, the aesthetic of Dizzle is about as diverting as a confused, tedious “back in my Woodstock days” reminiscence of your Uncle Chong’s. It’s also paired with the aesthetic of manic frenzy and bad, intermittent, too-loud musical interludes.

Although some of the film’s problems are ideological, most of the blame lies in the actualization of the ideas, in the nuts and bolts of things like screenwriting and editing. Funny or interesting dialogue and action are sacrificed to overlong and overly frequent hallucinatory trips. Character development is forgone for the sake of a cursory spiritual enlightenment quest, without the necessary irony. Workable pacing is scrapped for pointless filler scenes that drag and go nowhere — which would be fine if they were at all entertaining. What’s so maddening is that they should be entertaining. There is a goldmine of piquant absurdism here, but elements of the film that ought to be delightfully bizarre, irreverently comical, and playfully satiric end up falling flat thanks to half-baked attempts at weightiness and cinematographic virtuosity. Gravitas and neon sphincter fish don’t mix, as it turns out.

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