If I could travel back in time, perhaps I would have titled this film “Just Add humor.” Ouch! Just Add Water is an indie direct to DVD comedy that features Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck), Jonah Hill (Superbad), Danny DeVito, and Justin Long (Accepted). You can tell that it’s an Indie feature because it is both weird and quirky!
The plot follows good-guy in a shit town Ray Tuckby (Walsh) as he mourns the death of his strange town and watches his life fall apart. In a way, the collapse of his life is freeing, allowing him to move on and be the man he always wanted to be, a take charge kind of guy. In his way is the local town Meth Dealer, a young punk who has somehow bought up all the land and power in the town and rules with a mildly retarded fist and a harem of pregnant ladies and stoned henchmen. Ray is inspired by the newly arrived DeVito (who also narrates) to take charge of his situation and fight Dirk for control of the town.
Walsh puts in a good performance, though he’s about three times too attractive to play this role, as everyone else in the town, barring his love interest, is pretty much a mutant or grossly overweight. Speaking of overweight, Jonah Hill is in this film as a troubled youth dealing with some sexual issues, who takes up all of about 5 minutes of screen time. Tracy Middendorf co-stars as Nora, the love interest, and their relationship genuinely feels like there is a lot of chemistry going on. Their scenes together are easily the best in the film.
Everything in the film is competently done, but it tries perhaps just a bit too hard to be indie and quirky, something that when done naturally can be hilarious, but when forced comes off as, well, forced, awkward, and disappointing. That’s not to say the film is entirely without charm, though it struggles to find itself for the first 45 minutes. Dirk, a young Meth head, intimidating an entire town full of men is a bit ridiculous and the climax is a bit rushed, a bit underwhelming, but appropriate for the story.
One problem I had with this film is basically the constant slap in the face the director (Hart Bochner, who also penned the screenplay) feels he needs to deliver about small town life. There is only one female in the entire movie who isn’t pregnant at some point in the film. Many of the women have already born children, some are doing it again, and some are first time mothers. Apparently in small towns, all people do is drink hard and churn out babies. (Insert obvious cliched joke about small town America here, jerks)
The moral of the story for men appears to be “Stand up for yourself and every single problem you’ve ever had will magically disappear within 9 months.” If you’re a woman, the moral is “Get pregnant because that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
In the end I was underwhelmed with much of the story, which tried too hard to be quirky and failed to fully engage me or make me laugh for the first 45 minutes. I enjoyed Walsh and Middendorf immensely, and DeVito was a scene stealer. The almost entirely pointless stripper scene was also appreciated. Damn those were some fine t-… Nevermind.
If you’re a fan of quirky indie movies, this is probably for you. You may enjoy it. There are some legitimate laughs for everyone, though the “sad angst” of living in a small town is smacked in your face over and over again. To the average movie goer, I say nay, though if your favorite movies are Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, you’ll probably find enough here to enjoy yourself for 90 minutes. This movie is pretty much the direct to DVD cheapo horror film equivalent to the quirky comedy circuit. As a final thought, I did appreciate how Ray handles the collapse of his life and how it seems to suggest that dumping your family can be a great thing. Because who wants a weirdo wife and a fat son anyways? The DVD features deleted scenes and not much else.
The Upside: Tracy Middendorf is endearing and wonderful to watch.
The Downside: This movie wants you to know it’s quirky, and small towns are entirely composed of pregnant women.
On the Side: Writer/director Hart Bochner is a veteran actor of more than 30 years.