[box cover]

Spaceman

After watching the Spaceman DVD, one finds oneself regarding writer/director Scott Dikkers with a strange mixture of pity and awe. You're in awe because, first and foremost, Dikkers is one of the two founders of The Onion — producer of the ginchiest current-events satire on the planet. I'm also in awe because Dikkers — while in the midst of a major redesign of The Onion and working 80-hour weeks, if the disc's director commentary is to be believed — got it into his head that he wanted to make a movie, then followed through at great personal cost. He took out some credit cards; scrounged up some investors; cast his friends, assorted Onion staffers and some Second City theatre actors; and made a $50,000 flick that is most definitely not, as he puts it in the DVD's liner notes, "[a movie] about twentysomethings ... in apartments or coffee shops." Instead, he very consciously set out to make the sort of cheesy adventure film one makes with one's friends using a camcorder in high school — a corny-as-hell epic featuring aliens, Mafia thugs, martial arts, deadpan humor, evil FBI agents, and utterly inane, low-budget fight scenes. So whence the pity, you ask? Well, that "great personal cost" bit in the above paragraph is no joke. As Dikkers puts it in his liner notes, "In reality, the process tore my life apart, destroying my marriage, bankrupting me and driving me insane. But you can hear about all that on the commentary track." A dutiful listen to said commentary reveals that this is no satirical, Onion-esque wisecrack: Dikkers is almost self-loathing as he talks about making Spaceman, viciously pouncing on its flaws and laying bare the horrible compromises that result when one tries to "pull a Rodriguez" and create art without adequate resources. Also sad is the fact that, thanks to that lack of resources, Spaceman's a real mixed bag — almost a cult classic, but really just a cheesy adventure film one makes with one's friends using a camcorder in high school, only writ large, with all the flaws that implies. Here's the story: One night a little boy is abducted by aliens. Flash-forward 25 years: The wee tot (now grown up into laser-gazed actor David Ghilardi) is bereft of an emotional life, clad in an absurd "spaceman" uniform and cap (designed by Dikkers' brother) and trained in interstellar "ceremonial combat." Oh, and he's working at the local Sentry supermarket in Chicago. How he got there unfolds over a series of snack-food-triggered flashbacks I won't spoil here; suffice to say, by film's end Spaceman has unleashed his ceremonial-combat skills on homophobic bullies, FBI agents, Mafia thugs operating out of a barber shop and a martial-arts master — even as he searches for his mother with the considerable help of the fetching young woman (Deborah King) who lives in the adjoining apartment. To be sure, there are several genuine flashes of Onion-esque brilliance here— certain one-liners; the snack-food-triggering of flashbacks; a rooftop pipe fight that crackles with enthusiasm; the fact that the film's hero aspires to be a hitman for the simple reason that it's the best use of his job skills. Were the film more densely packed with these moments and not quite so deadpan, I'd consider it a marvelous candidate for cult-film status. But as it stands (and I actually hate to write this, given Dikkers' considerable courage and his unflaggingly brilliant work on The Onion), Spaceman is undermined by a few too many pedestrian two-shots, poorly choreographed fights and a plot frame that is, at its heart, a slightly more subversive version of the old adolescent action fantasy wherein one guy beats the tar out of a bunch of other guys to get the girl. Putting it another way: If it had been a little better or a little more inept, Spaceman might be a cult classic. Does that make sense? Still, the music score (by Dikkers' mother's boyfriend, Edward Pearsall) and the acting are far better than they've any right to be. And best of all, the director commentary is a morbidly funny, "Scared Straight"-esque document — one that should be required listening for anyone who's considered leveraging their lives to make a low-budget movie.
—Alexandra DuPont

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