Reviewed by Michael Erb
Dust Up is hard to describe without making it sound overloaded and uneven. It is overloaded and uneven, but it’s also a fun and extremely different film from writer/director Ward Roberts. It’s a exploitation neo-western with a streak of offbeat and dark humor. It plays like a live action Saturday morning cartoon that Hunter S. Thompson and John Carpenter produced. The main characters are a modernized Lone Ranger and Tonto dealing with identity issues. All these elements come together well and for the most part work at creating a fresh experience.
After stylish opening credits, the story jumps right into the boringly serene life of our protagonist. Former soldier turned handyman Jack (Aaron Gaffey) and his hipster Native American neighbor Moe (Devin Barry) get involved in a local crack head’s money troubles when Jack takes a liking to the addict’s beleaguered wife and baby momma Ella (Amber Benson). The group runs afoul of the resident loan shark/cannibal cult leader/entrepreneur Buzz (Jeremiah Birkett) when they try to help pay off the debt. What follows is a dark and twisted last stand as Jack, Moe, and Ella fight for their lives against Buzz and his junkie thralls.
The first thing you notice about Dust Up is that it’s got style oozing out like a gaping wound. The story and the characters are bizarre which helps to sell the absurd humor that runs through the film. The score and soundtrack have everything from western riffs to dance-hall electronica. It’s full of odd sounds and genres thrown together to make a thoroughly unique listening experience. The music of Dust Up is easily the most enjoyable part of the movie.
The visuals also carry a great deal of artistic flair. Characters are dressed distinctively and in ways that highlight their important traits. Moe has some traditional Native American clothing personalized with some Michael Cera worthy sweatbands and tube socks. Buzz looks like he wears whatever he found at the last rave he attended. It helps make each character truly distinct and memorable.
The action is well staged and looks quite fine for an indie picture. The choreography and cinematography manage to pull off some cool shots that elevate the obligatory fight scenes. The chase scenes suffer from one too many over the shoulder shots, occasionally making the scene unnecessarily confusing. The gore looks excellent in the instances it’s used and adds a lot of shock value to those moments.
There are a fair number of things that keep Dust Up from being a great movie. Not all the humor hits and some scenes just feel like they were included because of a dare. The best example of this is when Buzz strangles someone while ejaculating on the victim’s face. It really depends on your sense of humor, but that scene plays decidedly serious and it feels so very unnecessary.
The cast is pretty capable at conveying the mix of action, horror, and silliness. The standout performances come from Devin Barry and Jeremiah Birkett. Barry plays Moe with an unflappable smugness and confidence that you can’t help but love. Birkett goes so over the top with Buzz that he starts looking and sounding like a cartoon antagonist.
Dust Up tires to do a lot of things all at once and be a very different kind of movie. It doesn’t succeed at doing everything well, but it does make for an interestingly oddball film.
Visually the movie looks quite good for a DVD. The DSLR cinematography picks up a lot of light and makes some the more audacious aesthetic choices pop with brilliant color. Audio-wise there are a few issues. The audio mix for Dust Up favors the music over the dialogue often enough to become annoying. While the DVD’s 5.1 surround sound makes you appreciate just how eclectic and infectious the soundtrack is, you’ll have to crank the volume every time characters start talking.
This disc comes with a ton of bonus materials. There’s a series of PSA with Amber Benson dealing with a number of topics including drug use, the disabled, and cannibalism. They’re of varying degrees of funny, but never hilarious. There are featurettes on the additional dialogue recording (or ADR) sessions and one of the band Spindrift scoring the film. The cinematographer provided her own personal view on each scene to make up a gag reel. Actor Travis Betz filmed a video diary that serves as a behind the scenes feature as well. There’s even a short extra on the pony that was supposed to be a part of the film’s finale. All these things are varying degrees of insightful and interesting, but it helps that there’s just so many extras. Additionally, the disc comes with trailers and a photo gallery.