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American Scumbags
by Dakota Bailey

I've always loved movies with a hearty emphasis on oddball characters. Often these types of movies that are lower budget take on an experimental type of nuance that comes across as authentically independent. Richard Linklater's Slacker and Kevin Smith's early work set the standard in certain modern ways and the style became very synonymous with indie cinema. One of my other favorite styles of film is exploitation cinema; films that shamelessly offer up filth and taboo subjects with vigor. John Waters is, of course, an example of a more notable director of this variety, mixing obscenity and violence with biting humor (in addition to being one of my heroes). His films, reveling in filth, also featured a wide array of strange and unique characters. Ever since becoming acquainted I've grown to love these types of films.

Because of all this influence and meshing of sub-genres, several films have offered an interesting mix of vulgar cult film with character-driven narrative. For example, Wayne Alan Harold's film Townies. There's just something appealing about being shown a world of individuals who are anything but subtle. American Scumbags is a film that I recently saw and I consider it to be a new entry in this tradition. Set in the city of “Sunnydale,” the film follows numerous characters, none of them holding back in personality, as they get into trouble and influence each other in different ways.

American Scumbags features several interwoven subplots involving drugs, crime, and the people that take part in all of it. The opening is set off by some great music and snappy introductions to the primary characters. These characters include Chester (Fred Epstein), a local drug kingpin of sorts, and an enforcer/employee of his named Johnny (writer/director Dakota Bailey). Joining the story are a feather rustling addict named Lucifer (Nick Benning) and an all-around horrid psychopath named Billy (Darien Fawkes). These are the main characters who move the story along, but there are plenty of others sprinkled in to give the film color. We meet a wheelchair bound man who has a taste for roadkill, joined with another character recently released from prison.

The film deals primarily with the seedy underworld the characters live in and is more about the little moments. Since pretty much all the characters are hostile angry types, they butt heads quite a bit which leads to intimidation and murder. Billy spends his time causing trouble and doing whatever his obscene mind finds pleasing. Chester gets worked up about just about anything and proves himself to be a dangerous man with very little, if any real instigation. Even given that the characters are pretty much all awful people, however, it's easy to get into their stories and it’s quite entertaining to watch them do their thing. They all have wild personas that complement each other well.

The shoestring budget look of the film only adds to the entertainment factor and makes the film that much more endearing. There's clearly a lot of fun being had and everyone involved seems to be totally on board. Everyone fully dives into their roles and it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, unexpected experience.

For someone like me, who truly enjoys this style of film, I had a great time with it. It never takes itself too seriously but doesn't became too wacky either. It stays the course and puts itself out there. Perhaps the best credit is to say that it's definitely something I'd like to view again.

P.J. Griffin, HMS

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