By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Just to clarify, Justin Chon’s “Man Up,” available now through Vimeo On Demand, isn’t the romance comedy of the same name being released this year, starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell.
And that’s too damn bad, because I would have rather watched that movie. I would have rather watched almost anything else than roughly eighty minutes of unfunny comedy, pointless dialogue, ludicrous characters, and painful tedium. Chon made his name as an actor in “Twilight” and bucked his way up to co-owning a store chain. Alas, judging from his debut film as a director, he can’t direct. Or write. Or act, without someone who can direct watching over him.
The film follows two teenage boys, Martin (Kevin Wu), and his trusty sidekick Randall (Chon himself). They have a righteous hip-hop song at the beginning of the film. Then Martin discovers his girlfriend is pregnant. We know this is not going too well when the girlfriend’s father smacks Martin in the leg with a baseball bat. Clearly the father is not expecting a wedding to take place. And yet, Martin ends up moving into a tent on the edge of the family property. This is far from the only plot point that doesn’t add up.
Chon and Wu, who co-wrote the script, are Asian, so they can safely exploit Asian stereotypes, such as the domineering mother and the passive, soft-spoken father. But everyone in this film is so shrill it’s impossible to laugh, not even with guilty laughter. Not a single conversation sounds like a realistic conversation, how actual people talk. Every single conversation sounds like a small child jumping up and down and trying to imitate adult talk heard from the TV that’s on all day—at the top of its lungs.
Martin and Randall try to join a Lamaze class, despite the obvious fact that neither of them is going to have a baby. An Indian New Age guru tries to coach them in Lamaze. The pregnant girlfriend disappears because she can and then reappears because she wants to.
A strange, mute, frizzy-haired kid wanders through the film like someone’s bad conscious.
Or maybe like the indifference of the universe. It’s hard to tell because no one in this film, regardless of metaphor or simile, has a comprehensible psychology, except for the two male leads who believe in the two of them against the world. Except when they don’t. They have to break up to make up, same as Martin and his girlfriend.
The young people play “Dance Dance Revolution” outside (in Hawaii, where the film is set, it apparently never rains). The TV and the electronic dance floor pads set up in a field, the neighborhood competitions, the quarters faithfully pitched into a basket to pay whoever needs paying, provided the only actual smiles I had through the film. Otherwise, winces.
And the movie, after all the suspense of the pregnancy and Martin’s destiny relative to it, ends with a racial crudity I won’t bother relating. Inexcusable. Definitely don’t click through on this one. (end)
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.