Sure Thing (2013) – By Cary Conley

Have you ever thought about the number five? Have you ever truly considered the importance of this seemingly random number? Why five? Why, of all the numbers in the world, should five be singled out as more important than the rest of them? But once you think about the number five you realize that each human limb has five digits; the Pentagon, that bastion of national security, has five sides; humans have five senses; starfish typically have five arms; the Olympic symbol has five rings; and there are five primary vowels in the English alphabet. I’m sure if you think about it you can come up with other patterns using the number five. Heck, if you like superheroes or comic books, you probably are aware of the Fantastic Five. See what I mean?

John is an incorrigible gambler. He’ll bet on anything, from boxing matches and ball games to horse racing and NASCAR. And John is utterly convinced that the number five is his lucky number–a "sure thing", so to speak–therefore he usually bets on the number five. Problem is, that particular number hasn’t been terribly lucky of late and all its brought John is tremendous debt to the local loan shark, Mr. Chapel. Chapel isn’t very happy with John because he’s owed money that hasn’t been paid.

Sure Thing opens with two thugs beating John bloody until John agrees to pay up in full the next day. Like many compulsive gamblers, John isn’t too worried about paying up because he knows the big race happens that night and, true to form, he’s bet a large sum of cash on Car Number Five, hoping for a payoff large enough to square his debt to Mr. Chapel. Predictably, the race doesn’t go as planned and John is now in deeper trouble than ever, so he hatches a plan to take care of his problems once and for all. But, as is usual for this down-and-out character, nothing goes according to plan and in a cruel twist of irony he has the tables turned on him. Does John finally make a break from his problems and start fresh in a new town or does his streak of bad luck continue and bring him down? You’ll have to watch this 24-minute short to find out.

Writer/director Michael McCallum first burst onto the Michigan filmmaking scene with the dramatic feature Fairview Street in 2009. Already an accomplished actor with many roles under his belt, McCallum created his own production company, Rebel Pictures, and quickly established himself as a premiere maker of high-quality indie features and shorts. Sure Thing is his latest achievement.

Not content with just writing and directing the film (McCallum’s own very talented father, William, co-wrote the feature), McCallum also stars as John, a classic antihero with a gambling problem. John is a small-time street hustler who jumps from one scheme to the next, none of which are particularly successful. The only thing good in his life is his girlfriend, Angela (Cassie Little), who also keeps him financially afloat. Though John is essentially a loser he is also quite a likable character. You can’t help but like a guy who continues to make quips after a particularly brutal beating at the hands of Mr. Chapel’s thugs. And though John isn’t averse to breaking a few laws to try to get ahead, as when he knocks out another street hustler and steals his money, he also really loves Angela and is gentle and caring when around her. McCallum does a fine job of walking a thin line between low-life thug and loyal companion, creating sympathy for a character who really doesn’t deserve any. And while the story is essentially a drama, McCallum has installed an underlying vein of humor that essentially makes the film more of a light comedy. McCallum has also scoured the mid-Michigan area for local and regional supporting actors that all turn in solid performances, especially Cassie Little as John’s boyfriend, Angela. Sweet and gentle, Angela can also have a flair for the dramatic as well as the comedic, as evidenced by a funny scene that sees her slap John across the face just hours after his beating by Mr. Chapel’s thugs. You know that slap had to hurt and only added insult to injury, and you know that Angela has to understand exactly what she’s doing. It’s a funny scene helped along by both McCallum’s and Little’s reactions which made me laugh out loud.

McCallum knows his craft and surrounds himself with excellent technicians. Choosing to film in black-and-white, an artistic choice McCallum has made on several past occasions, really seems to suit this little character piece. The darker than usual sets and shadow play of the lighting fits well with the monochromatic scheme of the film, lending it a slight noir-ish feel. There is some nice handheld camerawork by Kevin W. Fowler, and the unique, jazzy score by Jeff Starr also contributes to the film immensely; at times quirky and other times comic, it blends very well with the film. Original songs by Big Willy, From Big Sur, and David John are high points as well.

Sure Thing is another solid effort from Michael McCallum and Rebel Pictures. The film premieres Sunday, September 8, in Lansing, Michigan. For more information on Sure Thing, Rebel Pictures, and McCallum’s previous work, go to rebelpictures.net.