Thursday, November 1, 2018

Slice Is A Classic Example of an Overstuffed Movie That Still Feels Empty

You'd be forgiven if you began watching Slice and presumed, thanks to the shockingly dense amount of mythology it throws at the viewer, that it was part of some larger franchise, perhaps it's a sequel to another movie or even just a feature-film adaptation of an Adult Swim show. In fact, this is a completely stand-alone motion picture hailing from writer/director Austin Vesley that just has a wider universe it needs to establish before its plot can get underway. Peculiarly though, a proper story or anything else similarly substantive never really materializes despite a whole horde of characters and supernatural tomfoolery getting introduced, Slice instead just has a lot of chess pieces in play that it never bothers to move around the board.

Slice takes place in a town heavily populated by supernatural creatures that has relocated all its ghost citizens to an isolated part of the area referred to as Ghost Town. It is here that a pizza delivery boy gets murdered in a pattern similar to a string of Chinese food delivery boy murders from years prior that were pinned on werewolf Dax Lycander (Chance the Rapper, here credited as Chance Bennett). This new murder victim had a girlfriend by the name of Astrid (Zazie Beetz) who is now determined to get to the bottom of who slaughtered her significant other, a crime which may have been committed in connection to her place of work, Perfect Place Pizza, which was built upon a torn-down sanitorium. 

In addition to all of that, we also have a number of other supporting characters that include a newspaper reporter, Sadie (Rae Gray), a corrupt Mayor (played by Chris Parnell) and miserable detective Mike (Tim Decker). In one of a number of odd screenwriting decisions, there's no established point-of-view character among this gaggle of individuals to help the viewer get acquainted with this strange world and its inhabitants. Stranger still, most of these characters are heavily disconnected from each other and occupy storylines that rarely intersect in a meaningful way. Was this meant to be an anthology film at one point? Taking that approach might have at least let the individual plotlines have more of a chance to breathe.

In its final form, applying a traditional three-act structure to a story this all-over-the-place is merely a curious move whereas the inability for Slice to have fun with its high-concept universe is a truly disappointing creative decision. For instance, the ghosts in this story rarely engage in the most basic of behavior associated with ghosts like walking through walls, instead they're just normal people with powder sugar on their faces that tend to act like zombies in the rare times they don't just linger in the background. Meanwhile, Chance the Rapper only becomes a werewolf briefly in the climax and a coven of villainous witches feel like they could have come out of any run-of-the-mill movie in terms of their behavior and wardrobe.

The lack of screentime dedicated to actually entertaining sequences taking advantage of the heightened elements in its premise gets especially emphasized in a bizarre montage sequence occuring just before the climax that has Zazie Beetz, via voice-over, covering a whole bunch of supposedly critical plot developments (including her characters turn into a witch-killing vigilante as well as ghosts haunting mortal humans constantly) that sound like they'd be a whole lot of fun to watch actually unfold. Instead, we get told they happened in a rushed montage and then we're off to a middling climax that oddly tries to pay-off character arcs that haven't been nearly fleshed out enough.  
This messy script and an omnipresent lack of imagination kneecaps the whole production and its positive elements, which include solid cinematography and sets (despite being a low-budget affair, the world of Slice certainly looks believable enough) as well as a number of notable performances, specifically Lakin Valdez as a put-upon ghost and Tim Decker's fully committed grizzled detective with an axe to grind pastiche. But some tasty crust can't make up for a pizza that's otherwise left a bad taste in your mouth and the better parts of Slice similarly can't overcome its scattershot sensibilities that needed more focus and less plodding world-building.

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