Sundance 2016: The Greasy Strangler, by David Bax
There’s a strain of comedy that we’ll call so-dumb-it’s-smart (think Paul Rudd protesting cleaning up his mess in Wet Hot American Summer) that came out of the 90s and early 2000s alt-comedy scene. Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler is a hollow echo of that brand. It’s so dumb that it wants you to think it’s smart. But this is not highbrow comedy masquerading as lowbrow. It’s just empty and gross and pointless.
Michael St. Michaels and Sky Elobar star as a father and son, respectively, who run low rent disco-themed walking tours of Los Angeles. When a young woman named Janet (Eastbound and Down‘s Elizabeth De Razzo) takes the tour and develops an interest in Elobar’s Brayden, a romantic rivalry is sparked. The older and self-proclaimed smoother Big Ronnie (Michaels) is not so much attracted to Janet as he is jealous of his son’s shifting attentions. Meanwhile, a serial killer caked in cooking oil known as the Greasy Strangler who may or may not be Ronnie (he totally is) has been killing their clients and acquaintances.
Ronnie’s preoccupation with greasy foods is not just the dead giveaway that he’s the murderer, it’s also the basis for much of Hosking’s gross-out humor. This is where personal tastes enter into my opinion because the only thing that churns my stomach more than puerile bodily fluid humor is a visual gag based on disgusting food. The shots of sausages and bacon coated in grease are more vomit-inducing than any fart (or even vomit) joke.
What’s more upsetting, though, is Hosking’s lame insistence on tired anti-comedy tropes. For the bit parts, he’s hired bad actors and apparently instructed them to behave like even worse actors. And his screenplay pushes the limits of patience with its deadening repetition. That style has been funny in the past but Hoskings is aping the offbeat comedies that came before him instead of following his own inspirations.
With no apparent motivations beyond joining the hip kids comedy club, The Greasy Strangler becomes an exhausting slog. Such paltry ambitions make the film the exact opposite of everything it’s longing to be. In a word, it’s boring.