Writing for Rogue Cinema for as long as I have, it isn’t uncommon for me to run into a preachy film that features poor photoshop attempts and green screen. In fact, it is almost to be expected from most of the microbudget projects that cross my desk. However, it isn’t often that I find a film where the inclusion of such poor taste seems to be intentional. Action Figures, no matter what you derive from the movie, is a treasure trove of bad taste and cinematic rule breaking. While watching the movie, it seems as if the filmmakers made a list of everything that film schools tend to teach their students about simple narrative progression, and then they intentionally broke every single item on the list. With scenes that are edited with the fervent flare of someone who has just injected adrenaline into their aorta, the movie lacks much cohesion. However, this lack of cohesiveness may ultimately be part of the point. Filled with virulent anger directed towards society, the establishment, the Hollywood system, as well as the rebellious lot who won’t shut up about the way that the world operates, Action Figures is a film of universal aggression and humor. It doesn’t try to present itself as being a great cinematic achievement, but at the end of the day it stands out as a not-so-great-looking piece of work that has big intentions and some very curious ideas.
The official plot synopsis reads: "Sometime in the 21st century, a new evil threatens humankind. Meet the fundamentalist movie fan! Raised by violence in the media and armed to the teeth, these suburban thugs declare holy war against Hollywood in a string of horrific mass shootings threatening the very fabric of human civilization! A bizarre cult of militant nerds addicted to fantasy and obsessed with blockbuster movies like Star Wars and Batman begin to stalk humans as prey, treating their victims like living toys for their own sick entertainment. Can anyone stop these psychos from dragging the world into a war which to them is little more than a live game of Action Figures? In a strange new world ruled by Star Wars Fundamentalists comes the first chapter in the darkest mythology the world has ever known!"
Action Figures rushes over the audience in waves. Like watching a Jodorowsky film, you might not remember much of the convoluted plot – but you’re likely to remember the abstract visuals and intriguing ideas. Contrasting Action Figures with the man responsible for The Holy Mountain and El Topo is probably sacrilege, but despite their aesthetic differences, both types of cinema are guaranteed to inspire some confusion within most audiences.
Action Figures is a strand of ideas all cobbled together in a fairly interesting soup that isn’t easily digestible. The filmmakers seem to enjoy keeping their film open to interpretation, because I still find myself trying to pick apart exactly what the film hopes to inspire. Looking around on the internet, it seems as if the majority of this film has been compiled over numerous years, but this is not the case. The film in fact is a remake of a black and white student film that one of the film makers released back in 2000, which has been reviewed before on various websites. This film is an updated remake of the original film, and its development started in 2011, so don’t be confused by information you may find about the original while looking up information about this one.
The film ultimately works as a series of potentially-conflicting ideas. The main thesis is up for interpretation as far as I am concerned, but it is either very surface-level/base, or the ideas behind the film are more intricate than they at first appear to be. In the movie, we are introduced to a filmmaker who appears to have an axe to grind with George Lucas and the rampant consumerism that the Star Wars series has, in his mind at least, helped inspire. However, this character is shown to be overtly preachy and self-indulgent. He and his film go on tirades against conservatism, but it is done with such fervor that it becomes farcical. This character is only the first of many further characters who will force their strange views upon the audience in this nearly two hour movie. If the project is to be accepted at face value, then it would be too entirely self-absorbed and angst-driven to be taken serious. The characters in the film seem to hate everything that doesn’t coincide with their tunnel-vision view of the world. People with different political philosophies? Morons. People with different religious beliefs? Sheep. People who like [X] pop-culture icon? Complete Idiots. It’s a very closed minded approach that would not lend credence to the film at all. However, looking at the film from a less cynical point of view, it can easily be taken as a lampooning of such cynicism. Maybe this warped view of reality comes from both sides of the weird world of pop culture. From those who consume what the television has to say as if it were gospel, to those who oppose it and fill their hearts with hatred, the fringes are both exposed a great deal within Action Figures.
Action Figures is not an easy film to try and absorb. Characters often speak over one another, creating a cacophony of sound and ideas that do not all have a chance to resonate. Done to an exact science throughout the majority of the film, Action Figures breaks down many of the norms that we run into within cinema. Scenes are interspersed with odd visuals that seemingly have little point, full scenes of pure excess often fill up the running time, and various odd quirks become focal points in the movie rather than just breaking down the plot. The overall visual style of the movie reflects a bizarre mix of modern shot-on-video insanity as well as the very cheap world of 1990s analog backyard productions. While there is a legitimate story taking place within this film-within-a-film, it plays out with seemingly little consequence. More than anything, Action Figures seems to be most focused on its stylish and putrid visuals. Attempts at drama and tension are lost along the way in favor of anti-storytelling. Still, after everything is said and done, Action Figures is a hard movie to turn away from. The filmmakers obviously have a thesis in mind for their feature, but it is something that will be left entirely up to the audience to figure out. In another time, something like Action Figures would be perfect midnight-movie material. However, it does lack a great deal of polish and that ultimately hurts it. Although it seems as if some of the bad visual FX work might be intentional, it doesn’t lend itself to a wider audience. However, if you have an open mind, this bizarre piece of work is probably worth checking out.