Directed By: Eli Drinkwitz
Starring: Larry Rountree, Grant McKinniss, Connor Bazelak, Damon Hazelton, Martez Manuel
Synopsis: In the face of a chaotic performance, Mizzou falls flat on their face, raising questions about internal improvements that need to be made.
You know how some movies are announced and your initial thought is, “Oh, that’s going to be bad.” Be it the cast or the story, you just know the feature is destined to be an all-out suck fest... but you’re still kind of intrigued?
Perhaps it’s out of morbid curiosity, or maybe it’s the potential for a bad thing to transcend its own badness. But there’s something about it that draws you in, reaches into your wallet and invests. And, lo and behold, it’s just as crappy as you imagined. Way to go, idiot, you spent $20 on those tickets!
Mizzou Studio’s latest — the disastrous and aptly named Downhill — is one such feature, a bomb that promised you long before its release that it was going to, in fact, bomb. But even the slightest hint of promise draws you in just enough so that when it turns out rotten, you feel bad for getting your hopes up.
Set against the backdrop of a cold winter morning, Downhill finds our Tigers living the high life. Everything is coming up roses for our cast of characters when a veritable avalanche — a cascading, rampaging pack of Bulldogs — invades their space. Given the chance to step up and heroically defend themselves, the Tigers instead crumble in the face of adversity. What follows is a long slog of self-reflection, one that doesn’t live up to the lofty standard Mizzou Studios has recently set for itself.
The problem right off the top is obvious — this is a bad case of miscasting. Sure, the stars may be good enough to handle a feature like this (Martez Manuel is particularly good in a bigger-than-usual role), but the supporting actors and bit players? They’re blown off the screen, lacking the sort of experience one needs to pull off such a high concept picture. It’s not as if the talent isn’t there; it just hasn’t been given a chance to blossom yet. You can almost feel the desperation in their performances — and in Eli Drinkwitz’s frantic direction — as they try to make sense of the world they inhabit. It’s sympathy-inducing, if not all that effective as a production.
Downhill also continues a recent run of disappointing work from Assistant Director Ryan Walters. His work on the Defensive Unit stood out in some of Eli Drinkwitz’s early work at Mizzou Studios, but Walters seems to have slipped in recent efforts. There has been some question about the cast he’s working with and whether or not he has the right personnel to effectively man his duties. That’s a fair complaint to make, but we know enough about him to think he’s probably leaving some good material off the table. It’s not panic inducing at the moment, but it’s disheartening to see after such a promising start.
Speaking of promising starts, the whole of the thing doesn’t do itself any favors by starting off with a banger of an Act One. Up until the avalanche hits, the Tigers respond well to the adversity thrown their way, deflecting nicely and creating some nice, light-hearted tension perfect for a Saturday morning. But then Act One comes to a close, and the whole thing falls apart. It’s almost as if the characters in the story (or the cast and crew, for that matter) weren’t prepared for any more shakeups and didn’t know how to adjust accordingly. The promise of the first third of the film gives way to something of a desolate mess, and it’s all the worse for it.
Maybe the most disappointing thing, however, is that Downhill crudely resembles a more effective piece from back in 2013. It’s the same premise with an entirely different cast of characters, director and off-screen crew. But that version had an edge to it that Downhill is sorely lacking. Perhaps the people involved with the original production were better prepared or better placed for that sort of story. The nods to the original are a nice touch, but don’t carry nearly as much weight when the story doesn’t unfold with the same energy.
All in all, it’s probably best to leave Downhill in the rearview mirror. There are probably lessons to be found somewhere in such a disappointment, but they’re best learned by the people who make the movies, not those who watch. Do yourself a favor and forget all about this one. You can bet the people who made will try and do the same.