Detonator (2013) – By Cary Conley

Sully has a nice life. He has a cute son with his girlfriend and a good, 9 to 5 job. Things haven’t always been easy but Sully is working hard at keeping things together. He used to be a musician, but that was a long time ago. Nowadays, he works his white collar job, is having his tattoos removed, and is even considering selling his old amp to help fund the purchase of some new furniture. While it’s tough to completely forget the old life–especially since his old girlfriend and her new band have hit the big time and the city is plastered with posters for their upcoming headlining gig–things seem to be working out and Sully is moving on.

Then out of the blue, his old friend and band mate Mick calls up. Mick was the "Johnny Rotten" of Sully’s band, Detonator. Back in the day, Detonator was the Next Big Thing. A regional favorite of the Philadelphia area, they were on the verge of making it big, even cutting their first album, before Mick took off with the band’s money. Nearly two decades later, their old club owner still has the original tape that is laying in the bottom of a box, unplayed all these years. Mick is now in his thirties and is still shoplifting for the thrill of it, getting in trouble with the police, and generally making a mess of things for anyone with who he comes into contact. Mick convinces Sully to come see him one last time before he turns himself in to the police for a minor offense. What follows is a wild and raucous night of fun, flirting, drinking, and fights before Sully manages to extricate himself from the wild ride that is Mick. Along the way there are also some revelations that are revealed before some final catharsis that sees Sully finally come to terms with his old life and turn away from it so he can finally give his full attention to his new life.

Detonator is an excellent character drama, co-written and co-directed by Damon Maulucci and Keir Politz. Maulucci and Politz have created a compelling story about love, loss, friendship, and guilt, a gritty film set against the gritty backdrop of one of America’s great cities. This is Maulucci’s and Keir’s debut feature film, though both are veterans of the craft, clearly depicted by the quality of filmmaking exhibited in Detonator. The story is strong and addresses tough real-life issues such as choosing between the past you loved and the future you want. As the tagline states, with change comes sacrifice.

The three leads each are fantastic in their respective roles. Lawrence Michael Levine (who can be seen in this summer’s V/H/S 2) as Sully exhibits an incredible range of emotion and an almost palpable sense of sadness throughout the film as he wrestles with both his past and his present. It seems unfair that just when he is attempting to erase the last vestiges of his past away, it comes tumbling back into his life in the form of Mick. Benjamin Ellis Fine channels a young Michael Madsen as Sully’s self-destructive bandmate Mick. Fine gives one of the most authentic performances I’ve seen as the old friend who never grew up. Mick says he wants to make amends, to pay back an old debt he owes to Sully, but is this really all he wants? True to form, Mick has an ulterior motive–one which threatens to rip the fragile fabric of Sully’s newfound life apart. Rounding out the cast is the terrific Robert Longstreet as Dutch, Detonator’s blue collar, rough-around-the-edges record producer. Dutch is haunted by the fact that he knows he missed his one chance to make it big in the music business with Detonator. He’s been relegated to becoming a seedy club owner on the wrong side of the tracks, he’s angry about it, and when Sully and Mick show up late one night, he wants revenge. Longstreet is perfectly cast as Dutch; the viewer will be utterly convinced this man is capable of violence, even murder.

Production quality on this indie feature is slick, from the sound to the cinematography, and the musical score by Joe Jack Talcum of the Dead Milkmen, is excellent as well.

Detonator is a fine dramatic piece, with an excellent story, utterly authentic acting, and a superior score. Detonator is playing the festival circuit this spring, with stops at Cinequest 23, the 2012 Philadelphia Film Festival, and the 2013 New England Film Festival. If you live in the Philadelphia area and have a chance to catch a screening, you won’t be sorry!