9 p.m. Saturday
113 N. Crawford, Norman
“I met a man once on a bus,” says Airman Sally Bruce (James Paulsgrove). “He claimed to know more than he actually did. But then again, don’t we all?”
This sullen condemnation aptly sets the tone for “Airmen,” the latest in the repertoire of local musician Mickey Reece. Better known as the now-defunct El Paso Hot Button and half of surf-rock outfit Gang Starr Museum by day, Reece is an air traffic controller trainer with a voracious and relatively new interest in filmmaking. “Airmen” has all the ambition of a major motion picture, but possesses the rough edges of a student film, albeit understandably so.
Funded by an arts grant, “Airmen” follows Bruce, who has recently left Phoenix for nowhere in particular after discovering his fiancée, Patty (Chanel Roady), cheating on him upon his return home. Three days into an aimless bus ride of despair, Bruce meets 2nd Lt. Harvey Garrison (Kameron Primm), a pompous ne’er-do-well with a superiority complex to which Bruce succumbs immediately.
The film premieres 9 p.m. Saturday at the Opolis in Norman.
Garrison is on his way to Hot Springs to patronize a legendary whorehouse purportedly catering to military men. Bruce, having nothing better to do, accompanies him. The two are promptly mugged by townie Mazzio on their first night out, when he promises to show them how to get to Mama Sunday’s House of Forbidden Pleasures, but instead takes their wallets.
Forced to find temporary work while the sheriff (Reece) does nothing to assist them, they fall under the patronage of the eccentric, French-tipped antiques dealer Myrtle Shoemaker (Dustin Sanchez). Shoemaker is at once the least self-aware and most intelligent character, and his performance brings multiple dimensions to a role that, according to the script, should have only one.
Garrison, throughout the film, spouts non sequitur after non sequitur and manages to survive without a single sympathetic moment, until an inspired plot twist involving Shoemaker’s panic and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
After a series of mishaps during their deliveries, the two part ways, with one worse for the wear and the other seemingly unaffected by his time there.
The film’s plot is linear and somewhat predictable, and the cast is largely comprised of amateurs, although Reece, Primm and Sanchez belie more acting experience than they have.
Cinematically speaking, “Airmen” is leaps and bounds beyond Reece’s most recent film, “Country Singer,” although most of the cast and crew is the same. The grant provided a new camera, costumes and an experienced director of photography (Richard Botchlet) — all firsts for Reece’s films. “Airmen’”s aesthetics are enjoyable; interior shots of the brothel and antique shop are beautifully lit; and the scenes shot in downtown Hot Springs pay the town proper homage.
In short, “Airmen” won’t be on the Oscar ballot this year, but Reece’s ability to deliver beyond his resources, combined with the ingenuous performances — his scum-of-the-earth sheriff, Sanchez’s schizophrenic nerd and Primm’s idiot of a good ol’ boy — make Saturday’s premiere worth attending, despite the film’s flaws.