This is Encino (2008) – By Josh Samford

Cinematically, if the nineties are going to be remembered for any one thing, it would be its new wave of independent cinema. From this scene, we saw the rise of both Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, amongst others. It doesn’t seem to be argued that these gentlemen changed the face of both independent cinema as well as the world of mainstream Hollywood filmmaking. These two directors were wholly different from one another, but they did manage to have at least one definable shared trait between their works: characterization. Each filmmaker loved their characters, and filled their worlds with poetic dialogue and well-crafted stories so that these characters could easily thrive. While I don’t want to say that This is Encino works as a successor to the films created by these two well-known auteurs, the influence is certainly felt throughout this very entertaining crime/comedy.

Rocco is a small-time thug who wants to make a big score. When he gets word of a tough gig that could pay off in dividends, a job that would see him holding up some armed gangsters, he takes the job while trying to keep his partners in the dark. He enlists the help of his cousin Maynard, who is neurotic and fights off chronic bouts of diarrhea while suffering from tremendous ADHD, as well as his close friend Seymour who is very hesitant about this job. While he and his partners wait for the pieces to fall into place, Rocco and his crew slowly find their willingness to complete this job being sapped away.

While I hate to sound like a broken record, continually bringing these two filmmakers up, but This is Encino seems as if it hopes to be a mix of Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino aesthetic values. From the black and white photography, which definitely inspires comparisons to Kevin Smith’s Clerks, to a conversation between characters that seems as if it were a direct reference to Reservoir Dogs, this is a movie that holds its inspirations right on its sleeve. There’s a funny bit of dialogue where Rocco and his cousin go back and forth about why it is that his cousin is given a different name than his own, and it would take a blind man not to recollect the “why am I Mr. Pink?” scene from Tarantino’s breakout movie Reservoir Dogs. This conversation leads to back-and-forth arguments over whether or not his name is considered silly, and this is a nice introduction for the audience to gauge the type of humor that will be used throughout the course of the movie. The scene, despite being the most blatant bit of referencing, is actually one of the funniest bits throughout the movie. Indeed, the comedy is very dialogue centered, and due to the writing being as good as it is, the movie rarely falls flat. Unlike many films that were inspired by this wave during the nineties, This is Encino thankfully does not seem inundated with blanket movie or genre referencing, but instead it works off of the quirkiness of its characters.

Similar to the work of another cerebral filmmaker, This is Encino also harkens back to David Mamet’s film American Buffalo. Similar to This is Encino, American Buffalo follows a group of would-be gangsters who contemplate pulling off a robbery, but they instead spend the majority of the movie arguing amongst one another instead of actually going out to pull this job. The back and forth arguing in Encino is certainly reminiscent of Mamet’s work, and most of the humor is born from the very rabid performances from this cast. Although there are no performances that will be confused with Dennis Franz or Dustin Hoffman, the cast assembled in this small production is actually pretty amazing. There are moments where the performers occasionally go over-the-top or become stilted, but by and large these are very impressive roles for this young cast. Showing a great amount of promise, hopefully we will see this cast move on to bigger and better things.

While it has its problems, This is Encino is surprisingly strong. Although it goes back and forth between being derivative and being original, for the most part any small glitches in the writing are forgiven due to the smart and funny dialogue that this cast brings to life. I would certainly recommend readers check this one out if the opportunity arises. You can read more about the project via the official Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/ThisIsEncino

Update: This film is now available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video!  You can get it here.