With somewhere between 600 – 750 film festivals in the U.S. alone, chances are there’s at least one film festival within 20 miles of your home. It was under such circumstances that I discovered finder’s fee: a jeff probst film. Apparently, it won the the Seattle International Film Festival’s Golden Space Needle Award (one of the few major awards at the festival), which is voted by the tribal council. To put it another way, of all the people who went and watched movies at the festival that year, finder’s fee: a jeff probst film was their favorite. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for festivals giving unknown independent films a chance—that’s what festivals are for. But as with most of the movies picked on this site, we will be focusing on the mistakes. To be honest, I’m pretty proud of a festival giving its top honor to films as overlooked and/or underappreciated as Apartment Zero, Run Lola Run, The Wedding Banquet, My Life As a Dog, Oss 117, Whale Rider, Pump Up the Volume…etc, where the Weinsteins are nowhere in sight, Oscar chances are inconsequential, and entertainment value is still part of the sum. After all, who among us is waiting for the next Spitfire Grill or an Ed Burns production (actually i don’t hate him as much as most people do but nevermind). The point? Film festivals make mistakes. More importantly, the public is stupid.
Which brings us to finder’s fee: a jeff probst film. Interestingly, after it won the Golden Space Needle, it also won a best screenplay award at “Method Fest”, (a festival that focuses on acting). Now you might think, “Wow, an award-winning film directed by a semi-…er…psuedo–celebrity will certainly make its way to a theatre near me . Or at least within 30 miles but no, it went directly to video/dvd where, two years after it had recieved its awards, it earned multiple “dvd exclusive” award nominations, alongside an in-name-only/direct-to-video/dvd mimic sequel, Inspector Gadget sequel, Dracula 2000 sequel, and Air Bud sequel.
Trying to block out the cuteness that is space buddies, I’ll have to get on with the story of finder’s fee: a jeff probst film. A douche-ier version of Cillian Murphy named “Tepper” (or “Tep” if you’re nasty) comes home to find a wallet in front of his apartment building. There’s no information as to who this wallet belongs to, so he proceeds to call up the only number he can find in said wallet. After the call, he discovers a winning lottery ticket–a lottery that apparently takes place in New York and involves only three numbers but with a winning of 6 million dollars, he switches the winning ticket in the wallet with the loser ticket that he bought, cause that’s what losers buy. Darth Vader then shows up and claims that it’s his wallet.
Oh if only that’s the whole story. No, you see, douche-ier Cillian found the wallet on the same night that he was going to propose to his girlfriend, (who’s not really that important even though she’s in the beginning and the end of the movie, leading us to believe that she has some kind of purpose or point in the story). But like most things in the movie, you’ll find that they are brought up but ultimately serve no purpose. To call them red herrings would be an insult to the term red herrings, the color red, and whatever the hell a herring is.
But that’s not all folks! On the same night, douche-ier Cillian also host a weekly poker game with his friends and neighbors. These are quite some “friends.” As they include: Shaggy from the live action Scooby Doo movies (although i’m giving him a pass for Stevo in SLC Punk), Van Wilder (douche!), and Mr. Gay stereotype/doucheier Steve Zahn who is apparently straight and married–a pointless stereotypical character that, again, doesn’t lead to any plot point, statement, or entertainment value. and of course, they showed up one after another just like any first time playwright would have them do. almost forgot, they also use a weekly lotto ticket as ante in their poker game. now you see how plot points are supposed to merge (in the most absolute lamest manner).
now, a word about these “friends.” there are long stretches throughout the movie that…a lot of screen time are used wasted on trying to convince us that they are friends. unfortunately, the screenplay does the opposite: it not only shows that these are not likable characters, it also shows, extremely obvious that these characters are NOT, friends. having to witness and listen to their “camaraderie” before and during the poker game makes you yearn for unlikable-but-believable camaraderie in swingers, kevin smith movies, rounders, cheers, wings…hell, this makes two and a half man and suicide kings sound like mamet. for 100 minutes, the only thing these supposedly witty banters make you think is why these people are “friends” to begin with.
like good little piggies, characters enter one by one and what we have here is essentially a staged play(which is one of my favorite genres), where characters have to stay on the set. except that in this movie, the excuses are flimsy. there is also a treekiller of a subplot of cops surrounding the building where no one can leave. You’d think that Robert Forster, (playing the main cop), after having read and delivered Tarantino’s lines in the underrated Jackie Brown, could distinguish a shitty dialogue from a good ones.
Most of the movie will have you thinking that it’s building a mystery. characters hiding things from each other, people who are not what they seem…blah blah blah. the film accomplishes this by having characters looking at each other, making eye contacts, unfolding glances about who knows what and about whom. a mystery this does not make. turns out, viola, it’s a morality tale! apparently, after 90 agonizing minutes of neutered cat and mouse, it’s here to teach us a lesson. see, it’s important to do the right thing! or did he!?
Now, at this point, I could raise numerous questions regarding the plot and ending of the movie. But I will spare you that agony. One could also mention an ending that a crappy twilight zone/outer limit episode or a shyamalan would be proud of. but that would involve spoiling the movie, should you be masochistic enough to watch it someday. Let’s just say, as someone who likes poker and one-set movies, it’s a shame that this movie actually got made and won awards, however wrong-headed and biased they were, respectively. Having watched it on vhs, I missed out on the dvd commentary where we find out that apparently, the screenplay was workshopped at sundance, and that the film got made thanks largely to stephen baldwin’s connection, who apparently thought, after being in the usual suspect and bio-dome, that this is a great script that needs to be made.
A search on the 2001 festival shows that Ghost World, Under the Sand, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Startup.com, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Picture, Innocence, Southern Comfort, The Princess and the Warrior, The Anniversary Party, Chopper, Together, and O were all shown that year. Nevertheless, the tribe spoke and finder’s fee: a jeff probst film was the best of them all. On a totally unrelated note, Jeff Probst apparently grew up in the Pacific Northwest, went to Seattle Pacific University, and worked for the CBS affiliate in Seattle prior to hosting VH1 Rock and Roll Jeopardy. Like I said, I’m sure it’s all unrelated. Thanks, Seattle!