02nd Aug2021

Sundance London 2021: ‘First Date’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen, Nicole Berry, Samuel Ademola, Ryan Quinn Adams, Angela Barber, Dave Reimer, Jake Howard, Samantha Laurenti, Scott Noble, Leah Finity, Josh Fesler, Brandon Kraus | Written and Directed by Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp

The ‘One Crazy Night’ genre gets a new entry in the form of First Date, a low budget crime comedy, the debut feature from co-writer / co-director duo Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp. Scrappy and often wide of the mark, it ultimately succeeds thanks to a sort of stealth charm effect, sneaking up and winning you over when you’re least expecting it.

Newcomer Tyson Brown plays Mike, a naïve and hopelessly passive high schooler who’s pushed into asking out girl-next-door crush Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) by his motor-mouthed best buddy Brett (Josh Fesler). When she says yes, Mike suddenly finds himself in need of a car, so Brett finds him a cheap one online, courtesy of shady local hustler Dennis (Scott E. Noble).

However, unbeknownst to Mike, the beat-up 1965 Chrysler he ends up with is actually filled with a huge amount of cocaine. Soon, Mike finds himself pursued by a gang of criminals and a pair of corrupt cops – to say nothing of a gun-toting cat lady (Leah Finity) with an uncontrollable trigger finger. Meanwhile, Kelsey is still waiting to get picked up, unaware of the night that’s in store for them both.

Crosby and Knapp embue First Date with a chaotic energy that keeps things moving at a decent pace, even if their shot choices and editing don’t quite do justice to the action on screen. For example, considering so much of the film revolves around the car, the driving scenes are poorly handled throughout.

It’s clear that the directors are aiming for a mixture of Tarantino cool and Coen Brothers quirk, but they can’t quite get there on either count. The dialogue is especially disappointing – there is one laugh-out-loud line (a gag about Nicolas Cage and National Treasure), but that backfires because it only proves how much funnier the film could have been if it had tried a bit harder.

In fairness, First Date does have a handful of nice ideas, like the gang member who refuses to take off his balaclava even when there’s no-one around, or the implausible (and underdeveloped), but still funny idea that the gang are all in a book club together.

However, the source of the film’s charm lies squarely with the two lead performances and their surprisingly sweet chemistry. Consequently, the film picks up considerably once Kelsey gets in on the action, to the point where you wonder why the film contrived to keep them apart for so long.

The rest of the performances are something of a mixed bag. Nicole Berry is great as crooked cop Sergeant Davis and Brandon Kraus is very funny as Kelsey’s smitten jock neighbour (he gets the Nic Cage line), but the overly shouty criminal gang characters are badly underwritten and no fun to watch.

Ultimately, First Date gets by on a combination of wacky energy and the strength of Duclos and Brown’s performances. Still, if there’s to be a Second Date, then Crosby and Knapp need to up their game in the action and dialogue departments.

*** 3/5

First Date screened as part of this years London Sundance Film Festival.

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