CAPSULE: SKILLS LIKE THIS is a quirky comedy from first-time director Monty Miranda based on a screenplay by first-time screenwriter Spencer Berger who also stars in the film. Berger is surprisingly strong as both a comic writer and actor. This is not a great comedy, but it is quite accomplished for a film by newcomers. Spencer Berger in particular shows real potential. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Max Solomon (played by Spencer Berger) is a playwright who has pinned his hopes for success on his play "The Onion Dance." It is having its premiere just before Max's 25th birthday. Max's whole future is tied up in his accomplishment of this play. Unfortunately, this magnum opus comes off as a pretentious pile of platitudes that puts most of the audience to sleep. The most extreme audience reaction is from Max's grandfather who has a heart attack. In depression, Max decides he wants to change his life. Over lunch Max is sharing his problems with his two best friends, Dave and Tommy. Dave (Gabriel Tigerman) is success-driven but becoming a non-entity in the company where he works, and Tommy (Brian D. Phelan) is deliciously warped out of reality. As they share their discontent the conversation drifts to robbing banks.
With nothing to lose Max decides on the spur of the moment to cross the street and rob the town bank. So as not to hurt anyone he points the gun at his own head threatening to kill himself if the bank teller does not give him the money. (This is reminiscent of Cleavon Little's threat in BLAZING SADDLES.) Curiously it works. Can robbery really be so easy? Max tries more crime and finally finds it is something he does well. With the exception of Dave, Max's friends are thrilled to know a real criminal. By chance his path crosses with that of Lucy (Kerry Knuppe) the very teller who handed him the cash. From this shaky start begins a relationship with her. Lucy wants to reform Max, but Max does not want to return to being the nobody that he was just a day or so before. Each of the four major characters Max, Dave, Tommy, and Lucy have decided that they are at the end of their tether in their lives and each looks for a change. In a matter of three days each will be very different from what they started as.
Berger plays a character whose writing career is ending, but Berger himself is probably going to be sticking around. It would be easy to believe that SKILLS LIKE THIS is the start of a notable career. Berger's gags for the film are funny, particularly those for Tommy, whose job-hunt and bizarre behavior lead to a string of disastrous job-interviews. Berger is lucky in that he has a comic face and a manner to match it. Someone once told me that Woody Allen could read the phonebook and it would be funny just because of the way Allen looks and talks. Berger similarly has a face and a method of delivery that invites the viewer into his comedy.
There are some problems with the script. Max makes a rather incompetent thief. And one has to believe that the police in this town are far more incompetent than he is. The story is contrived for him to be very lucky. It is something of a stretch to believe much of what happens. Also toward the end the various flows of the film stop and crystallize into sugar. It is for a purpose, but it really does not work.
Made on a smallish budget, SKILLS LIKE THIS has a lot to offer, reminding us of the adage that the cheapest way to improve a film is with solid writing. It has been picking up prizes at film festivals and gets a wider release March 20, 2009 in New York and April 3 in Los Angeles. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0800205/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/skills_like_this/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper