FEATURE FILM REVIEW
THE PAST TENSE
Time travel in the 90s doesn't come cheap, and loan shark Rooney wants his money.
SET SOMETIME IN 1990, The Past Tense tells the story of a small group of people on the verge of a fantastical scientific breakthrough. Time travel. Very quickly the last details are fine-tuned and with a few strikes on a keyboard, the hypothetical breakthrough becomes a reality. For Professor James Moore ( William Conrad ) at least. For the rest of the rag-tag crew nothing has happened, nothing at all. As Moore attempts to convince his peeps that he has, in fact, went backward in time the door swings open revealing loan shark Rooney Wagner ( Dan Bertolini ) and his merry band of thugs.
It seems that professor Moore has been borrowing money from this crazy loan shark to fund his time travel project. The due date has come and went and now Rooney wants what's owed. All of it. Put on the spot with a gun to his head, Moore asks for one more day to get the money - plus a considerable bonus. In Moore's mind, he can go back in time and end this situation before it even begins. Taking one of James' crew hostage, Rooney grants the extension and Moore breathes a sigh of relief. Only, the machine doesn't quite work the way he had hoped - and although James can go back in time, he can't change the present. What's a crazy professor to do?
I DECIDED I WOULD GIVE IT FIFTEEN MINUTES, AND WATCHED THE ENTIRE MOVIE
I came across this film on YouTube and immediately thought I would give it a go. Time travel movies are quickly becoming a dime a dozen; but the concept involving a payday seeking loan shark intrigued me. I was also very curious when I read that this independent title was a no-budget movie, and was filmed almost ten years prior. Why was that surprising? Because The Past Tense actually looked pretty good from the trailer. No Camcorder footage or video from a mobile phone, this film looked like it could actually be good. I decided I would give it fifteen minutes, and watched the entire movie.
I was, and still am impressed. Not because I've never seen a better movie or witnessed a better story unfold, but because The Past Tense looks the part of a movie with a small, but not micro-sized budget. At some points in this title, it could easily stand side by side with a substantially larger production. There's something about the way it's paced that is instantly engrossing, a great sense of timing from whoever edited this movie. Think of a Harry Keramidas, Michael Bay hybrid of editors. Now, add in some excellent performances and some honest to goodness comedy, and you end up with The Past Tense... mostly. I am not writing that this is the picture of perfection, and there are segments that don't hold up to some of the better ones, but mostly this is a film that could be easily enjoyed by a lot of people.
ROONEY IS ONE CRAZY, ECCENTRIC DUDE - EVEN JUST LOOKING AT HIS WARDROBE CEMENTS THAT FACT
Let's be honest, a comedy relies heavily on the actions and reactions of its characters - and The Past Tense definitely isn't lacking when it comes to... characters. The standout performance comes from Dan Bertolini and his portrayal of loan shark, Rooney Wagner. There are loads of comical moments in this film and most involve Bertolini in some way. Rooney is one crazy, eccentric dude - even just looking at his wardrobe cements that fact.
But his performance isn't the be-all, end-all of the film. The unspoken friendship between Will ( Steve Kasan ) and Moore comes through loud and clear. The awkward relationship between Jay ( Phi Huynh ) and Allison ( Cassie Podor ) is definitely present - and Jay's relationship with Moore is also a blast to witness during a few of the scenes. Especially during a funny scene involving Jay time traveling for the first time. Rooney's cohorts Milt ( Darrin Drugan ) and Frank are equally amusing. While Milt is your stereotypical mafia themed thug, Frank is a hilarious parody that really had me laughing. Generally speaking, the bottom line is that the acting in this film was a pleasant surprise - thumbs way up.
IT'S EASY, IT'S FUN, AND ALTHOUGH AWESOMELY ENTERTAINING, DOESN'T TAKE ITSELF ALL THAT SERIOUSLY
If you think I'm implying that everything is perfect with this production, that is far from the truth. Using the three-act structure, act one was my favorite. As soon as you watch Kasan dancing around in his kitchen you get that light airy feeling of good times to come - and come they do. Into the second act, the film gets a little more sinister and by the final act, you can see the cracks that had been steadily forming. I felt some of the character work, especially regarding Allison, was a little underutilized. Nothing that makes me like this film any less - I'm simply pointing out the obvious. From the description of the movie, a lot of B-ROLL was used to bring this project to life and if I were to guess, the final act was the main recipient.
I also feel I should point out some of the racial elements The Past Tense seems to revel in. With the current state of what's PC and what isn't, Conrad's film could be seen as a bit racy. But you must remember that this movie was filmed almost a decade ago, and that it was also made to resemble movies from a few decades ago. Even still, the racy jokes in this title are not hateful or malicious - and make up some of the best moments in this film. The Past Tense feels like a movie created by friends with a huge amount of love for the film industry. It's easy, it's fun, and although awesomely entertaining, doesn't take itself all that seriously. I can only imagine what could be made if this same group of people had some cash. The Past Tense ends up being a quick, fun film that looks infinitely larger than it's production budget of zero. Thumbs up, four stars.
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