Every once in awhile Fantastic Fest delivers something way out of left field. The programmers from time to time will discover something truly special that, while it may or may not fit one of the three signature genres on which the fest was founded (horror,sci-fi, and fantasy), still manages to delight the audience. Stingray Sam technically does fit the sci-fi theme, but had I seen it before it was announced as part of this year’s slate, I never would have guessed that it would play Fantastic Fest.
Stingray Sam is about a cowboy lounge singer working in a nightclub on Mars. Oh yeah, that’s right. It takes place in a future where Mars, once the entertainment capital of the universe, is a forgotten wasteland of middling performers and corporate sponsorship. Stingray Sam meets up with his former cohort, the Quasar Kid, and embarks on a mission to rescue a kidnapped child. Apparently Stingray is an ex-con who needs one massive good deed to fully repay his debt to society. The girl is being held captive by the talentless, spoiled ruler of a faraway planet who is the product of genetic alterations that allow men to reproduce. Did I mention this movie is bizarre?
I enjoyed this film to a point. One of the most unique aspects of Stingray Sam is the structure. The movie is composed of six story segments each around ten minutes in length and each with its own ending credits and a reprise of the theme song. I really appreciated the throwback to classic science fiction serials from the 1950’s such as Commando Cody and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. The choice to do the film in black-and-white aides the homage. There is even a narrator who recaps the previous episodes and a faux sponsor announced before each new one. It’s also an opportunity, though in a very limited capacity, to mash up science fiction with westerns which is always something I appreciate (Westworld is one of my favorite films).
Above all things, Stingray Sam is a musical. You can bet your spurs there will be at least one catchy little number in each segment. And the songs are indeed catchy. I enjoyed that there wasn’t really a unifying sound to the songs; implementing several different styles of music to keep the audience wondering about the next tune. By segment three, the entire audience was singing along with the Stingray Sam theme. I think my favorite song was the chantey, pseudo funk rap about the lineage of the all male society. The stories behind the songs are actually presented in a hilariously absurd animation sequence reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and David Hyde Pierce, as the narrator, really sells it.
My biggest problem with this movie is that it’s a movie. If that is the only line of this review that gets quoted somewhere, I will officially be labeled as the biggest moron in all of internet film criticism. But honestly, this film is so much better suited for an internet series than a feature film. Yes, it is episodic and no individual segment is longer than ten minutes but that’s only part it. The humor in this film is a very dry, deadpan silliness with no shortage of absurdity. The straight-faced goofiness with a classic sci-fi seasoning is very much like something from Larry Blaimire. Blaimire’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is side-splittingly hysterical in its send up of 50’s monster films but most of its charm is in its cyclical, ridiculous dialogue; big fan of that film. While Stingray Sam plays with some of the same type of humor, it gets a little too silly to maintain the appeal over the course of an hour. After a while, I started to grow weary of the jerky story structure as well. I know the film is available for download from the official Stingray Sam website, but I have also heard it’s getting a theatrical release, which I think will be detrimental. I think this film, in webisode format, could really take off and find a wide audience. I just don’t think it works as a feature film.
The acting is decent, the songs are fun, and the film employs, more-often-than-not, fantastic absurdest humor. It has ties to both 1950’s serials and Hitchhiker’s Guideas well as mashing up sci-fi,westerns, and musicals with flair. There really isn’t anything wrong with the film, I just believe it would find enormous success online where regular theatrical audiences aren’t going to appreciate it. It could be that it won’t get a theatrical release and it was just a special distraction from the typical Fantastic Fest fare; I’m perfectly happy with that. It is a wonderful little comedy that everyone should check out one way or another, but be aware that it is mega silly and episodic.
The Upside: Funny, unique, and chock-full of the kind of preposterous humor that I love.
The Downside: The serial episode hook wears thin after awhile.
On The Side: The entire movie can be downloaded with exclusive extras from www.stringraysam.com