REVIEW: First Date [2021]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 103 minutes
    Release Date: July 2nd, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Magnet Releasing
    Director(s): Manuel Crosby & Darren Knapp
    Writer(s): Manuel Crosby & Darren Knapp

Let’s talk turkey.

Tony (Todd Goble) declaring his love over the phone to a woman he just met while hastily (and poorly) packing a suitcase in the hopes of getting out of Dodge before the people coming after him arrive with guns drawn is obviously going to impact what follows. His yet unknown pursuers will inevitably become Mike’s (Tyson Brown) inheritance being the lead in Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp‘s latest feature First Date, their band of criminals in search of something valuable enough to kill anyone that gets in their way—including this unsuspecting, naïve, and introverted teenager. Mike only wanted to buy a car on the cheap, pick-up Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) at seven, and maybe muster the courage for a goodnight kiss. He ultimately experiences a whole lot more.

It’s funny to read the director’s statement talk about wanting to make a movie that hewed closer to the “classic” cinema they watched while growing up—the works of Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers—with the caveat that “modern” cinema just isn’t the same. Unpacking those sentiments and their ability to push 70s cinema into the realm of silent films despite First Date owing a lot more of to it than the 90s is its own conversation for another time. Whatever their inspiration, you must respect Crosby and Knapp’s ambition to go out and put that which they missed back onto the screen. The finished work can’t avoid wearing its budgetary constraints on its sleeve, but it still leaves ample room to display their passion.

The result is a violent comedy that thrusts Mike into the sort of nightmare he could never have thought up himself. And it’s all predicated on wild coincidences from his best friend Brett (Josh Fesler in a role that thankfully sees his intentional obnoxiousness sidelined when not bookending the whole) knowing information he shouldn’t to being a couple minutes too late to buy the car he wanted from Dennis (Scott E. Noble) to a random pair of older lovebirds (Shari Schweigler‘s Thelma and Graham Green‘s Roger) finding him in the middle of the night for another unexpected detour. Heck, getting hit by human Ken doll Chet’s (Brandon Kraus) car at the start might have been a better fate since Mike’s “luck” ends up taking him through Hell instead.

Know that you’ll need to embrace this descent to enjoy it because things can begin to feel laborious if you aren’t in the right headspace due to so much of the plot hinging on idiots repeatedly being idiots with little deviation. It helps that Brown is such an endearing lead caught in way over his head with an authentic fear keeping him frozen in place while chaos is unleashed around him. You listen to what his Mike has gone through and know it’s too crazy to not be true because he’s too shell-shocked to simply make it all up on the spot. So why wouldn’t Sergeant Davis (Nicole Berry) give him the benefit of the doubt (despite her partner—Samuel Ademola‘s Duchovny—wanting to put him in cuffs)?

Why wouldn’t she do it again? And again? And … well, it gets tiring. The same with Jesse Janzen‘s (The Captain) crew of misfit crooks always making you wonder why he didn’t replace (or kill) them many jobs ago. Thankfully they’re endearing enough too—as a unit if not individually—for us to look the other way and bask in the absurdity of a running joke that their hot-tempered group is in a book club together. Every time it seems Crosby and Knapp are going off the rails, gags so simple and seemingly innocuous get us to hold on a little longer. And when things finally teeter too far for gravity not to yank it all crashing to the ground, a well-placed stand-off can always cull the herd.

That no one is too precious to escape a bullet besides Mike and Kelsey (What’s the point of it all if the potential for a happy ending doesn’t remain?) is probably First Date‘s best attribute because nobody else is redeemable enough to make a case for survival. Not that these two kids don’t make a case for their own demise due to an inability to shut up (his anxiety and her pedantic need to be right constantly test The Captain’s patience). The film’s surreal and outlandish machinations allow for the fact that so many guns can be drawn without everyone just curling into a ball on the ground because the cast’s refusal to help themselves makes it so anything is possible. Adrenaline proves an unpredictable force.

It also alleviates some of the strain caused by a cast that doesn’t always possess the nuance to supply a performance beyond one-note theatrics since the further they’re pushed, the more their over-the-top nature falls in line with the situation and hides its shortcomings. The amateurish ticks become affectation and the comedy that ensues (intentionally or not) takes over. This isn’t a gritty, self-serious drama anyway. It’s a wild ride with as many bright spots and memorable gags as those that wear out their welcome. And it’s nice to know that neither Mike nor Kelsey have skin in the game. They’re innocent bystanders caught in a whirlwind that threatens to turn them into collateral damage. We root for romance—if things ever calm down—because they deserve it.

[1] Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos in FIRST DATE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
[2] A scene from FIRST DATE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
[3] A scene from FIRST DATE, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

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