Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Menace With 5 Arms (2013)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Ayssette Munoz, Devin Dunne, Jorge Chapa, Kat Kennedy
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A small-town sheriff teams with a marine biologist to investigate the mysterious disappearances of people in the nearby desert, and learn a gigantic starfish is behind it all.

Joshua Kennedy's tribute to the giant creatures of 1950s monster movies offers more of what we've come to expect from the young writer/director, a savvy homage to films of the past that also showcases his talent in front of and behind the camera.  Filmed partly in his home state of Texas, and also near Pace University in New York City, the film school which would become his new home, the movie features familiar faces in the cast from Kennedy's past productions, as well as some fresh new ones.

Josh himself, having grown a beard since his last production, graduates to an adult role as Joseph Kerwin, a promoted deputy under stress from dissatisfied locals after the death of the town's popular sheriff, as well as from a breakup with his long-time girlfriend.  He hasn't written for himself an easy character to play, seemingly patterned after the roles of familiar 50's leading man John Agar, a good and decent man who's not perfect and makes mistakes, but doing the best he can, he struggles against simmering anger building up in him.  When his temper finally boils over, it's real and believable, and a worthy accomplishment of acting for a young man still in his teens.  When the film's leading lady enters the picture, he's also able to channel considerable charm and self-confidence despite his character's problems.

That lady is played by Ayssette Munoz, a lovely and self-assured actress who projects a sweet innocence as well as a chip on her character's shoulder after a blunder that damaged her academic reputation.  Her scenes with Kennedy genuinely build rapport and warmth between their characters, even when at odds, with dialogue so reminiscent of the movies 1950s sci-fi fans know by heart.

Those looking for references to their favorite classics will find them in characters like Tommy Green's, representing the teller of tall tales who's the first to warn Kerwin about the starfish, Michael Albeis' defiant promoter who ignores Kerwin's warning to stay out of the desert, and the young girl in shock from her experience with the creature (Erin Alexis Cantu), who comes out of it in a scene paying tribute to 1954's Them!

Kennedy has come a long way in just a few years since the limited special effects of his first production, and is able to stage some impressive technical visuals, sending crowds fleeing across the screen from the giant projected starfish, and helicopters reeling towards their destruction as the menacing creature scales an actual Pace University building.  Still, those nostalgic for Kennedy's creative use of miniature toys in his past movies, will smile when they find those employed here too.

In another sign of the director's growth, Kennedy also composed the music that accompanies the film and although the score is fairly elementary, it's remarkably effective, particularly during the monster scenes.  The sound recording and use of sound effects is also a step up from his past efforts, convincingly creating the bustling background noise of an airport, and the slurping of the creature when attacking its screaming victims.

Kennedy's creativity shines throughout the picture with his only limitation being his budget, and he again finds unique ways to counter that shortcoming.  Not every scene is all that it could be, but that could be said of any film, and like his character of Joseph Kerwin, he endeavors to make a picture that's not a perfect replica of those made by his predecessors, but one that will recall fond memories in an audience appreciative of his efforts.

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