“You officially have a stalker—ME!”
It’s the kind of gentlemen’s agreement you can see yourself making in the heat of a drunken bout with self-pity: swear off the opposite sex for a year in order to cleanse your soul of the one who left. For brothers Grant (Neil Brookshire) and Ancel Fox (Aaron Toronto) it’s a blood pact to reclaim their manhood and find success through independence. Well, maybe just for Grant—earning a promotion at work and meeting girls to have fun with as friends without constantly wonder about the prospect of sex—since Ancel wants to renege as soon as he sobers up. But since his new wife-less existence means holing up with a bottle on his brother’s couch in hopes he isn’t caught singing “Kumbayah” in public again, the power of The Pact refuses to free him as long as Grant stays true.
Written by Aaron and Matthew Toronto with story collaboration from Jordan Toronto, this is most definitely a South Dakotan family affair. Without being especially unique, the film is a solid comedic look into the lives of four young adults coping with adulthood and the curveballs it throws when everything appears idyllic and serene. The device at its center should be excused for its contrived origins on a singular night when both Fox siblings happen to discover their respective plus ones have evacuated their respective relationships because it earns the laughs that follow. ‘Nice guy’ Grant must overcome years of cultivating a complex that his Audrey was the only girl who’d be with him and sweetly boorish Ancel needs a reprieve from his ego to comprehend what it is he lost and grow up to never again squander his blessings.
Sealed in blood on a napkin with a couple “Amens” to keep it legal, favorite ‘bar wench’ Jackie (Jordan Toronto) makes sure to protect the contract by adorning it on local watering hole Jim’s Taps’ wall for all to see. From there we’re taken into a montage of the good and bad as the Fox brothers traverse three hundred and sixty five days of celibacy by recreating themselves in the successful images they had forgotten they could be. Grant of course finds he is a lust magnet the split second he decides to honor the deal while Ancel discovers his desire to escape is impossible as tragedy strikes whenever he makes a move on the fairer sex. It works in its cheesy way of letting these two emotionally stunted men find more to life than their libido or need to be coupled. They rekindle the love they have for each other through the pact and make themselves better people as a result.
Everything can’t be as simple as maturing, learning lessons, and moving on from the pain of jilted love, however. No, a gorgeous beer drinking, ‘one of the guys’ vision of perfection named Charlie (Nika Ericson) has to enter the fray to keep things interesting. The first of a long line of women making a move on Grant—while a steady stream slap Ancel in the face with each advance—Charlie almost gets the stronger brother to cave mere hours in. Staying true, the evening ends in a handshake and it isn’t until the montage brings us within sixty days of the finish line that the vixen re-enters the tale. Now a new neighbor, she finds the Fox men a far cry from the boys they were months previous. Cooking dinner, forgoing alcohol, and laughing at how great life has been, these guys might have extended the pact indefinitely if not for Charlie inserting herself into the middle of utopia at their most vulnerable.
A lot of fun from start to finish, a majority of the jokes land with only a sparse few dying on impact—I really hope the name Grant wasn’t chosen so a joke towards the end could be written. Toronto and Brookshire have a nice chemistry together with the former reminding me of an even more under-achieving Steve Zahn and the latter an aged Adam Brody. Sarcasm is thrown about as barbs hit to create a couple memorable oneliners. The dialogue flows naturally and allows us to accept their differing positions on the timetable of life and believe the ways they improve their lot. An early passage with Brookshire and Ericson is funny too—even if paced a bit mechanically—and all the Grant/Jackie exchanges find a nice stride to cause us to hope something happens between them despite Charlie.
And while it wears its budget on its sleeve, it never becomes a slave to its shortcomings. With charismatic leads and a quirky supporting cast—Kira Hawkins‘ Joanne is a highlight stalking Grant from in close—The Pact deserves attention by delivering on its promise of good, light-hearted entertainment. The romance isn’t over-the-top, the outcomes are obvious but not in your face, and the laughs are quiet and consistent. You can tell the Toronto clan had a great time crafting their jokes while also keeping the dramatic moments authentic with broken hearts crushed until the end. No one gets over a long-lasting love overnight and a beautifully orchestrated scene proving such at the climax shows the Torontos weren’t going to cop-out and forget why Grant and Ancel shook bloody hands in the first place. It’s a moment of rare emotion that shows the film to be more than a just another throwaway comedy.
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