Director Christopher L. Golon’s coming of age drama could very well be mistaken for your average mumblecore flick that is storming independent film festivals of late. With a gritty realistic sense of direction, dialogue flows from the cast with startling energy. “Knock ‘Em Dead Kid” almost feels like something specifically tailor made of the more high brow festivals. While I did appreciate Mr. Golon’s appreciation for naturalism and depicting the reality of everyday monotony, he’s often much too obsessed with staging sleek scenes and character interaction to bring us on course for the actual story which involves protagonist Bret realizing that he’s outgrowing his friends and must move on and grow up. Channeling the likes of Larry Clark, director Golon follows these individuals around town as they walk around, chatter endlessly about their sexual preferences and engage in sexual activities with their lady friends.
The movie sets up a particular conundrum as its progresses as when we’re focused on Bret interacting with his friends he’s natural and down to Earth, but when we finally get to key scenes involving his development, especially one where a party guest approaches and flirts with him, the dialogue is noticeably stifled and stilted. The actors overplay their roles too strongly, and they never feel like they’re genuinely interacting, just going through the motions for Golon’s dialogue, and it restrains an otherwise potentially engrossing little slice of life. While I’m sure there are reasons for it, Golon never quite manages to stage the more important scenes in the movie well enough. If two characters are interacting he keeps one off frame, he sloppily cuts back and forth, and there isn’t a lot of dynamic when they’re being confronted.
Especially in the scene where Bret is approached by a cop questioning him about the beating he and his friends gave one of their rivals the night before. The ultimate weight on Bret is downplayed considerably as he never seems to be really disturbed about the fact that the cops may be on to his part in the beating which could mean definite jail time, and when he does obsess over it, he seems very calm as does his girlfriend who plays it off instead of offering the idea that what he did was horrible whether it was justified or not. There are elements that are unusual like the weird cutting away from Bret and his girlfriend to a montage when they’re discussing the incident in the beginning of the film. And of course there’s the female antagonist threatening to turn Bret over to infidelity which ultimately feels arbitrary and present just to create obligatory conflict in a story that already has a hefty portion of it.
I was never sure where to stand with Bret so I wasn’t positive if I should root him on or just wait for his downfall. Was he having trouble grasping his maturity and responsibilities or was he just a grade A prick? I juxtaposed the premise here with that of “Saturday Night Fever” and with some tweaking, Golon could have the same story with the same power. In the aforementioned film you could sense Tony Manero trapped in irresponsibility and stupidity to the point where he’d had enough and decided to grow up, but with Bret, I could never figure out what he had in mind and what he wanted to do with himself. Golon has on his hands a script that could work given better circumstances.
It’s a story with themes that requires actors with much more presence, and emotional turmoil and they sadly don’t deliver such promise in key sequences that should have been turbulent but are otherwise haphazardly conducted and rendered irrelevant to the overall result of Bret’s situation. While not a waste of time, “Knock ‘Em Dead Kid” isn’t as good as it has the possibility to be, and I hope Golon tries again with this premise in the future. Director Christopher L. Golon has the right idea and the right themes present for a movie that combines Larry Clark and classic mumblecore for a potentially great coming of age drama, but sadly its lack of focus, wonky editing, and uneven acting drown out most of its promise. It’s not the worst effort I’ve ever seen, but it can be so much more with a tightened second cut.