1-900 review by Matt FuerstI have been doing a number of reviews of ultra-low-budget films lately on JackassCritics, and there has been one common theme through all of them: serious suckage. There's no doubt about it, for most movies on a seriously tiny budget, there isn't going to be Blair Witch success. The audience is small, and rightly so. There are no special effects, and if there is, you wish that they had left them out (See the "Dookie Monster" in Ron Ford's Witchcraft XI). There are no sets, instead just empty apartments or two walls set up in someones garage. There are no actors you will recognize or often have ever worked again in a movie. But my friends, there is one thing that doesn't cost a dime, and sets the fate of the movie before the first scene is shot or the first Dunkin Donut eaten at the Craft Services table: a storyline. An innovative, interesting story doesn't cost a dime, and when written with a tiny budget in mind, it can be interesting, and maybe even thought provoking. 1-900 from M. David Lee tries to fit this role, but will it succeed?
We're quickly introduced to Paula (Danielle Thys), a reasonably attractive blonde who happens to work a 900 telephone line. On occasion, Paula treats her special callers to a house call. However, there is a small hangup to fulfilling the fantasy of these 900 callers, they always seem to end up dead by the end of the night. Obviously when the dead bodies start to pile up, the police tend to get involved, and we are introduced to detectives Sally and Rugger (James Gioia and Lance Gray). In their efforts to undercover the truth behind the death of these men, they visit the latest widow, Martha (Christienne Wadsworth). Eventually the pieces come together and the pattern is established that all the dead men have been fans of 1-900 sec lines (hey, it's better than calling a psychic!) and this leads the detectives right to Paula's front door. Is Paula guilty, or is this a setup? Martha is introduced, and has a suspect past. What role does she play in the murders, most importantly of her husband?
Some of the elements of the story seem very straightforward, but in actuality 1-900 keeps you on your toes. Characters are introduced, and instead of being paper thin, they all have their own flaws and charactersitics that they bring to the table. These flaws actually influence the interactions amongst the characters and the decisions that they make. This script was worked on and it shows. M. David Lee, who in typical small budget fashion, wrote, produced and directed 1-900 knew full well that having a good story doesn't cost a dime, and the end result of your film is decided before the first psuedo-set is built.
The roots of the film cannot help but shine through in the end, however. The sets are non-existant, the acting at times is way over the top (I thought Danielle Thys did the best job in the piece). While I am willing suspend belief for a moment, some plot holes are present in the film and left unexplained. Another character is involved in a lot of the story, the role of Joey Kalin, who gets a lot of screen time, but I pretty successfully distilled the film a few paragraphs above without mentioning his role in the film (he's Paula's boss at the 900 telephone service), so I suspect he was added to bulk up the content (I mean, running time) of the film.
Not too many people are ever going to see 1-900, which isn't really the end of the world. It's not like you're a geek and haven't seen Evil Dead II. While it's a fun film, it doesn't gain enoguh momentum to break through the atmosphere of it's own budget. A film with a similar screenplay with a $20M budget and a big name star or two would likely be very successful, but alas, this one is going to sit on the back of shelves for eternity.
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