Trent Haaga has spent more than 15 years establishing himself in the realm of indie filmmaking. An esteemed graduate of Troma University, where he got his start as the writer on Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger 4, Haaga also penned Deadgirl and Cheap Thrills (and numerous other projects), and has made appearances in over 50 films to date. While Chop, a 2011 micro-budget horror comedy that has been grossly overlooked, may have been Haaga’s first-ever time in the director’s seat, it’s with his follow-up effort, 68 Kill, that he cements himself as a filmmaking force of nature who continues to build a strong foundation as a purveyor of cult cinema.
With a screenplay based on Bryan Smith’s book of the same name, 68 Kill introduces us to Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler), a trailer-dwelling nice guy who pumps sewage for a living and is completely infatuated with his out-of-control girlfriend, Liza (AnnaLynne McCord), who contributes her share of their co-habitual expenses by shacking up with her sugar daddy whenever finances get tight. Realizing she wants a better life outside of the trailer park, Liza informs the hapless Chip of her plan to prosperity: jack the $68,000 currently residing in her sugar daddy’s safe and take off together for greener pastures outside of Louisiana.
What Chip fails to realize initially is that Liza is a whole truckload of crazy, so when their robbery attempt goes awry, she shows her true, off-kilter colors to her beloved, complicating both their relationship and Chip’s own upstanding sense of morality. From there, a game of cat and mouse ensues between them after Chip tries to “fix” Liza’s mistakes, and our hero is forced to figure out the kind of man he wants to be, ultimately breaking a few hearts along the way.
Made with an evident affection for grindhouse films and road movies of yesteryear, 68 Kill feels precisely like what a true “midnight movie” should feel like, brimming with unexpectedly wacky antics, copious amounts of over-the-top violence, a ridiculous array of supporting characters, and an “all bets are off” attitude. Beyond the fact that he’s crafted a hilarious, southern-fried caper, Haaga also gives the film some real heart via Gubler’s character, Chip, a good-intentioned guy that you can’t help but like, and who you want to see succeed by the end of the story.
Gubler is someone I’ve only really seen pop up in various projects from Richard Bates Jr. (Excision, Suburban Gothic, and last year’s Trash Fire), but he proves himself as a compelling lead in 68 Kill, reluctantly transforming into a hero as things get crazier over the stolen money. McCord, who is one of my absolute favorite actresses, brings her trademark sass and swagger to Liza, a firecracker who proves to be far more explosive than she ever lets on, and she’s a lot of fun to watch in this. Other supporting players in 68 Kill turn in equally great work as well, including Alisha Boe as hostage Violet, Sheila Vand as an unhinged gas station attendant named Monica (who definitely does not shop at Hot Topic), and Eric Podnar as Monica’s boyfriend, Leroy, who’s truly disconcerting to watch.
While some of the dialogue may be rough around the edges, and there’s one tidbit in the film that may be a bit of a plot hole if you dwell too long on it, there’s no denying that 68 Kill is still a wickedly fun heist movie that subverts genre fan’s expectations by playing around with gender conventions, delivering several impressive storytelling swerves that genuinely kept me guessing up until the very end. Haaga and his cast and crew should be proud of the madness they concocted on 68 Kill, as I really enjoyed watching poor Chip do his best to maneuver from one crazy scenario to another.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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