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DIRECTED BY: Mark Romanek
FEATURING: Keith Gordon, Amanda Plummer, Bob Gunton, Lily Knight
PLOT: A quiet young man in a small Western town believes he has invented a machine with life-changing potential, if only he could find someone else who could see it operate successfully.
COMMENTS: Throughout the summer of 2001, buzz was building over a mysterious new invention codenamed “Ginger.” Mastermind Dean Kamen had impeccable credentials as an innovator, and his creation was being touted by some of the biggest names in business, but Kamen held details of the project in such secrecy that supposition and rumor ruled the day. A hoverboard, some speculated, or some other anti-gravity device. Or some suggested it was some new hydrogen-fueled form of transportation. The mystery and the hype fueled each other in an escalating cycle, so perhaps disappointment was inevitable when the true nature of Ginger was revealed: the Segway.
Ernie Blick (Gordon) is also an inventor with a secret, but despite lacking any of Kamen’s advantages, everyone feels his widely discussed invention is certainly real and likely to be a big success. In a way, he has none of the narcissistic personality issues we often associate with creators: he’s unassuming and unfailingly nice, good-natured despite the recent loss of both parents, deferential to others, outwardly humble, and unflappable even when being laid off from his job at the town crucifix factory. (It’s hard to imagine a more perfect locale for a film featured on this website than a crucifix assembly line.) He’d be just another one of those quiet guys in a loudly quirky town were it not for the amazing thing he claims to have invented.
Commencing spoilers: what Ernie has invented is a TV that relays images of heaven. Ernie knows this has the potential to change the world; he imagines Q&As with excited reporters that bandy about talk of Nobel Prizes. Ah, but here’s the rub: no one else can see the live reports from the great beyond. They get the same thing we do: the titular snow and hiss. Reaction is poor, Ernie is understandably crushed, and we’re left to wonder why anyone thought such an invention might be in his skillset.
Up to this point, Static has been a rather charming accumulation of surprises and quirks. Ernie’s possible girlfriend Julia (Plummer, in an uncharacteristically straightlaced role) is a disillusioned rock keyboardist—just because. Ernie’s cousin Frank (Gunton, charming in his gracelessness) is a doomsday prepper and a hostile street evangelist—just because. (He’s also terrible at small talk. Upon meeting Julia, he wishes her well by saying, “I hope your death is painless.”) Everyone’s a little offbeat like this, and it’s okay because that’s just the kind of town it is. But once the heavenly cable box is revealed and no one can see what Ernie sees, we’re confronted with the question of what it all means, and that’s when things go careening wildly off the rails.
Static is right on the edge of asking some interesting questions about the nature of faith versus proof, about the role of artists and creators in society, about tolerance for ideas outside the mainstream. But instead, the movie lurches into a scenario wherein Ernie takes a busload of senior citizens hostage in order to generate publicity for his invention. Admittedly, Ernie is just as affable a kidnapper as he is a diner customer, and the standoff has the humor and light satire we might expect from a British sitcom. But it ends just as terribly as you could expect, with bullets fired, everyone dead, and not a single lesson learned. It’s a bold choice, sure, but a cheap and cynical one.
Director Romanek has reportedly disowned the film as juvenalia, which seems unfair. The movie looks good and is well acted. It just has absolutely no idea what it wants to say, and therefore ends up saying nothing. Static serves as an interesting collection of “wouldn’t it be cool” notions, but ask yourself what happens during the time between when Plummer comes rolling into town and when she heads back out. It may look like there’s a lot going on, but cut through the snow and the noise and all you really get is a fancy scooter.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“It’s always tempting to find a strange cult film all the more alluring if it’s hard to get to see it in the first place… Static serves up a near-surreal helping of small-town America just before Lynch himself had got to Blue Velvet, let alone Twin Peaks.” – Andy Murray, We Are Cult
(This movie was nominated for review by Wormhead. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)