Scooter Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Artist Rights Distribution
Written and directed by Matthew Wohl
2019, 72 minutes, Not Rated
Released on September 13th, 2019
Joshua Zimmerman as Will
Stephan Pineda as Juan
Dondre Tuck as Paul
Mitch Lemos as Sherriff Burt Pulaski
Brett P. Carson as Homeowner
As a loud and proud fan of the found footage subgenre, I’m inclined to look favorably upon a film that dares to dip its tootsies into those murky waters. I’m also religious about always staying objective and seeing both sides of the argument. That somewhat contradictory mindset has served me well as a reviewer, but you’re always going to get a fair shake with me. My philosophy also makes a movie like Matthew Wohl’s Scooter a challenge to assess.
I love a challenge, though…
Will (Joshua Zimmerman), Juan (Stephan Pineda), and Paul (Dondre Tuck; The Blonde Hair Murders) are childhood friends known to their 10 million YouTube followers as The Three Amigoes. They’re “Jackass lite”, arming themselves with an array of GoPro cameras and drones to capture their antics as they take on a series of challenges and vote on every decision democratically. Their latest challenge (billed as their “final challenge” via Blair Witch-esque title cards) is to travel the 866 miles from Miami to New Orleans on 50 c.c. (approximately five horsepower; top speed 43 miles per hour) scooters. They soon find that the freeway is a terrible option and turn to the back roads across the Deep South. When they witness a horrific crime while setting up camp for the night, they are thrust into a fight for survival against unexpected odds and old hatred that won’t go away even in the face of technology and progress.
Part of the reason that I’m so fond of the found footage and mockumentary styles is primarily because they’re so tricky. When you automatically ground what we’re seeing in reality via handheld cam, you’re making it an “in the moment” experience. That doesn’t mean that you can’t introduce fantastic, terrifying, and unbelievable elements (like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, or Chronicle), but you must present solid characters and a premise that’s got the proverbial barb on one end to hook the viewer.
In that regard, Scooter absolutely delivers. While The Three Amigoes are nowhere near extreme enough to warrant 10 million subscribers (they’re also frankly annoying), they are quite believable as childhood friends who have a real bond. There wasn’t a moment that I didn’t buy them as characters. The hook is good, too – it’s all very Gen Z stuff that’s utterly plausible. YouTube is filled with stuff like this, and it would make for crazy good entertainment to see it go this wrong. The hits would pile up on this story.
This isn’t YouTube, however, and the execution isn’t good enough to keep it out of the realm of feature-film expectations. That’s an inherent downside to found footage – your characters’ decision making will be overly criticized and the camera angles, musical choices (if any), and how it’s all edited will be picked apart to the nth degree. Is that fair? That’s not for me to say. Every genre has its pros and cons.
In Scooter, the trio’s response to what they witness breaks the suspension of disbelief. They have all the evidence they need to prove that a horrible crime was committed, and they absolutely could have simply driven away. You can’t help but feel that a more extreme element needed to be introduced to trap them in the situation. By the time they are trapped in said situation, it all feels too little, too late. It also takes about half of the film to get to anything other than pansy shenanigans, so the hook is never properly seated.
The underlying subtext about both voyeurism and racism is about as subtle as a hammer to the exposed nutsack and comes off as comical and preachy. I can appreciate the layers presented; the issue is how they are presented. Sherriff Burt Pulaski (Mitch Lemos; The Becoming) is a physically imposing figure who draws the eye, but his ham-fisted dialogue (i.e. calling Paul “Kunta” and Juan “Taco”) is just a little too on-the-nose. It takes an intense performance and makes it unintentionally comical.
Style points are to be awarded, though, for the graphic nature of the violence and the realistic feel of their escape. They make the most of the format in the back half there, but even with the premise and character believability it’s not enough to make Scooter anything more than a middle-of-the-road entry that makes you sadly chuckle that age-old question of “What if?”
Much like riding an actual scooter for any period of time, it seems like a great idea until reality kicks in.
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