Review by BRYAN YENTZ
Starring Ron Thompson, Danika Fields and J.C. Maçek II
Written and directed by James Dylan
What do Ralph Bakshi and Tangerine Dream have in common? Well, prior to my recent viewing, I couldn’t have told you at the drop of a hat, but now, I absolutely can! They both receive a “special thanks” during the end credits of the spectacularly awful CARGO (and no, we’re not talking about the recent Netflix zombie flick either).
Being a fan of both Bakshi’s audacious animations and Tangerine Dream’s electronic oeuvre, this little moment took me aback and I immediately sought information as to how they wound up in these final acknowledgements. Well, as it turns out, Thorsten Quaeschning (of Tangerine Dream) composed the score while Bakshi, well, um. . . Didn’t really have direct involvement beyond the only actor in this movie having supplied two of the voices from his 1981 film AMERICAN POP. Even stranger, on IMDB, the top billed actor (who serves as just a voice herein) simply goes by ‘Eliot’. Just ‘Eliot’. But I digress. There’s a whole movie to talk about rather than just the stranger relations. . .
To call [CARGO] simple is to undermine the word “simple”. It’s less than that. It’s a single-location film equivalent to BURIED, PHONE BOOTH, LOCKE or BRAKE, but with zero ambition and unconditionally misguided. Essentially, it didn’t see fit to just copy and paste films of the same ilk, but also sought to add plot holes, bad acting and a ludicrously comedic(?) angle into the mix.
Like the narratives it clones, [CARGO] opens with a businessman named Anthony Peterson (Ron Thompson) who awakens in a poorly spray-painted cargo container (there’s that title!). He can’t remember how he got there, but he’s been gifted a single cell phone for which to communicate with both captor and potential savior. The dilemma? The antagonistic voice on the other end of the line wants a LOT of money and is giving Anthony 24 hours to collect before he and his “trophy wife” are murdered. Anthony has committed a plethora of shady deals in the past and also orchestrated some vicious act of cruelty all his own—so is the malicious rhetoric that of someone scorned, or someone who just wants an easy ransom?
Thus, the stage is set for BURIED, er I mean… [CARGO].
What follows is baffling and hardly amounts to enough content to justify an hour and sixteen minute runtime.
For starters the acting is just. . . Well, have you ever watched public access or seen the “actors” on TIM AND ERIC? So yeah, it’s that. . . Delusional. Panic, pain, remorse and determination are all the name of the game, but you’d never guess that from Ron’s hilarious one-note performance. His relief sounds the same as his anguish and the entirety of [CARGO] comes off like they went with every first take. Somehow, his depiction of a man in dire straits is both over the top and not enough at the same time. This becomes especially evident during the moments in which he’s tortured (either by electrocution or having to perform some oral surgery on himself) and moans/shakes like he’s coming to a sub-par orgasm.
Granted, this is a one-man show, and as much effort as Ron Thompson gives, it’s utterly not enough to support a feature. Everything is relegated to the interior of Anthony’s hold, so we’re left with the verbiage and audio effects of his phone conversations to tell the story. This is as detrimental as it sounds. For one, this depends on the chosen location having some sort of versatility in being visually compelling for the duration of its plot. It’s not. Imagine being in a giant metal container with a camera. Think of the shots you could get. When it comes to a box, you’re limited. There are moments when the DP tries to perform maneuvers, but it comes off as unnecessary, neglectful to the plot and hindered all the more by bad editing which doesn’t know when to cut or fade in time with the shots.
So, to save viewers the trouble, I’ll say the plot goes nowhere beyond what you’d expect. Remember that movie BURIED? Okay, you saw a more intense version of this. However, one of the largest dividers between this, that and all of the other influences—is the laughable conversations that Anthony has with his cohorts. For a large duration of the movie, the runtime is spent with a HANGOVER-esque subplot involving Anthony and his dealings with a friend trying to collect the needed monies for the kidnappers. Throughout this, his ally must save a blood-puking prostitute, avoid a ravenous guard dog named Satan and even stage a robbery at a jewelry store. All of this is only conveyed via audio with such classic lines as “What’s next papa-bear?” and “Fuck, man, that was SWEE-eeeet!” It’s like listening to an unfunny episode of WORKAHOLICS but not being able to see it. That’s the misdirection [CARGO] takes. It thinks that “comedic” intervention is clever when it’s actually distracting and fully undermines the actual story at hand. No longer is [CARGO]about a potentially innocent/guilty victim and the suffering he’s put through, it’s about the crazy shenanigans his employee gets into. Not only is the focus shifted, the tone is as well.
Once things finally get back to the heart of the problem, [CARGO] wraps itself in a bow that hasn’t been so much tied as ripped, wrapped and taped together. The conveniences rear their head (especially a verbally described shoot-out as lame as it sounds) and the movie comes to an abruptly idiotic stop. Its attempt at catharsis rendered fatuous, illogical and completely unearned.
If [CARGO], was a five-minute short film, I’d recommend a watch with a drunken batch of friends, but as a feature. . . Well, I’ve already labeled the movies it borrows from, so just watch those instead. Either way, [CARGO] is laughable but not in the way it intended.