January 5, 2003 -- "Vulgar" is a well-crafted, low-budget film noir. It is a tale of horror and revenge that is nearly perfect in its relentless descent to the depths of one man's tortured soul. It is a curious tale of both terror and triumph. The story is about the fickle nature of success and failure as much as it is about good and evil.
Brian O'Halloran of "Dogma" stars as Will Carlson, who performs as Flappy the Clown at kid's parties. He's happy enough in his work, but he can't make ends meet. His mother torments him because he can't afford to get her into a better nursing home. Desperate to make more money, he comes up with a crazy scheme to appear at parties as Vulgar, a sort of adult entertainment clown. He thinks of himself as a gag act when someone is expecting a stripper, for instance. His first gig as Vulgar goes tragically wrong and he is savagely attacked by three men, Ed, Frankie and Gino Fanelli (played by Jerry Lewkowitz, Ethan Suplee and Matthew Maher, respectively). Ed, the father, is a real psycho who is into torture, among other odd sexual practices, and his half-wit sons help him procure victims. Gino videotapes the attacks for future reference.
Carlson is devastated by the attack. All of his dignity is stripped away, but he survives. Soon, his fortunes change and he becomes a very unlikely success. Everything is looking up for him. Then, the telephone rings. A voice from his past returns to haunt him. Someone wants to ruin his life. Carlson needs to figure a way out of this nightmarish situation. The story takes us to some of the darkest aspects of human behavior, making it a true film noir tale. It is dark, depressing and ugly, but fascinating at the same time. Carlson is really a good guy, but even a good guy can go bad if he is pushed far enough. We see all the layers of decency stripped off of Carlson's soul by the end of this film. In a nice touch, we also see how Carlson uses even his most painful experiences as harmless entertainment for the kids watching his show. Although this is a low-budget film, it is well-crafted, using clever camera techniques, and a story line which doesn't require elaborate sets. Hand-held cameras give the film a sort of home movie kind of reality, like a documentary. O'Halloran does a great job in his role as the tortured clown. His expressive face runs the gamut of emotions during the film. Jerry Lewkowitz is very scary as Carlson's relentless, rage-filled tormentor. This film rates a B.
Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes of "Clerks" and "Dogma" also appear in the movie. Smith plays a television producer in the film and Mewes plays his usual slacker, out-of-it, drug-using character. Kevin Smith, who has played the character "Silent Bob" in most of his own movies, is also an executive producer of "Vulgar." The director of the film, Bryan Johnson, also appears in the film as Carlson's friend, Syd Gilbert. Johnson also appeared in "Dogma." A note of caution. Many people find this film offensive because of the rape scene. I guess it is O.K. to rape a woman, but not a man. It didn't bother me, but it will bother some. You have been warned. Oh, and the reason you didn't see this in your local theater is that it only played in two U.S. theaters for a total of 13 days in the spring of 2002. Now, it is out on DVD.
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