Movies like Slice are part of a genre that I’m now trade-marking as “Kitchen Sink Movies,” films like Detention and Freaks Of Nature that take wildly outlandish concepts, throw the kitchen sink at the screen, and pray to god that it’s entertaining because it’s sure as hell not gonna make any sense. It’s a difficult genre to pull off since you run the risk of going too far and blurring out any attempt at story, or you don’t go far enough and your wild concept just feels flimsy and unfocused. In the case of Slice, it unfortunately suffers from the latter issue.
Set in the small-town of Kingfisher, a place where the living live right next door to a ghost population, a series of pizza delivery murders has the town concerned with each murder taking place outside the home of a ghost resident. After her boyfriend Sean (Austin Vasely) is one of the victims, pizza-girl Astrid (Zazie Beetz) takes it upon herself to investigate his killing, all the while her manager Jack (Paul Scheer) tries to keep the business running with his employees dropping dead around him. While Anti-Ghost sentiments are rung up by activist Vera Marcus (Marilyn Dodds Frank) and disputed by inept mayor Tracy (Chris Parnell), the police start looking into their primary suspect, Dax Lycander (Chance The Rapper), a known werewolf suspected of a similar style murder spree of Chinese Food Delivery’s years ago and has now been seen back in the area. All the while reporter Sadie Sheridan (Rae Grey) looks into the connecting and discovers that the pizza restaurant, the Chinese food place, and the factory that gave Kingfisher it’s ghost population, all share the same location which might be a gateway to hell.
The biggest problem I had with the story is that a lot of it feels superfluous, and at 82 minutes short, that really hurts the film. The most unnecessary was the subplot of werewolf Dax who only seems to be in the film for misdirection before a crappy fistfight at the end. Reporter Sadie comes a close second with her only apparent reason to be here is straight exposition, the history was a nice touch to beef up the film, but it mattered very little in the long run. Then add a drug dealer who’s made out to be a big deal and never heard again past his one scene, and a plan to bring about Ghost Slaves that never fully comes into play. The film is just a mess of half-baked ideas, ironically that’s often the point of “Kitchen Sink Movies,” but the trick is to never let these moments stand out as useless.
The main plot is to find out who’s killing Pizza Guys and does it enough to drive itself forward, while keeping the film from going completely off the rails with some genuinely funny moments of shock humor. Even that is let down by one of the most weak-sauce conclusions to a film I’ve seen in a long time. The entire third act of this film lasted upwards of 8 minutes and has everything come together to end on a literal bang, and then just fixes itself without any problem or stakes whatsoever.
Given the film’s stature as a “Kitchen Sink Movie,” I wasn’t expecting huge characters arcs, but it is much more of a mixed bag than I was expecting. Sadie feels like the making of a straight-man character, but she’s so removed from the rest of the story, and seems to just be on the sidelines watching it all happen, which literally describes everything she does at the end. Outside of Astrid, the rest of the Pizza Employees can literally be described as a Stoner, Horn-Dog, Girl, Ghost, and the Manager. For the ones that are killed, that’s mostly fine, but for the bigger characters it hurts them. The manager is probably the best of the lot with some funny lines and an ignorant viewpoint played for some good laughs, but for others like Heather (Katherine Cunningham) who seems to factor heavily into the story, she’s given absolutely nothing to work with, and at times feels forgotten about.
The main villain Vera has enough to work with for this type of film. She’s still pretty forgettable as things go, I can’t go into too much detail about what she’s doing, but trust me when I say that her end-goal is clear. Her motives leave her feeling like a Saturday morning cartoon villain with none of the charisma or witty lines. Her partnership with Mayor Tracy – unimportant but Parnell is the most naturally funny cast member and boy does it show – had a lot of potential to delve deeper into the Anti-Ghost Sentiments, or hell involve the ghosts at all, but it never factors in a meaningful way.
The main two characters in Slice were Dax and Astrid. Dax is really REALLY debatable given that he doesn’t show-up till half-way through the movie and doesn’t really do anything. But, Chance The Rapper is one of the bigger names of this film so that has to mean something. To give credit where it’s due, Chance The Actor isn’t bad and he plays the character with a nice twist, making Dax a Pacifist Werewolf who just wants to deliver Chinese Food. Having never listened this his music, I can’t say much for his regular persona, but he was believable in the role. Astrid is the closest thing this film has to a main character and she’s alright. Astrid is clearly a bad-ass on the road to revenge and Beetz nails the ‘F**k You’ look. Since we never got any word on her and Sean’s relationship there wasn’t a lot behind her quest to make it a worthwhile endeavor. I liked Astrid for what she was, but like the rest of the film, she was missing some vital context.
The film is the feature debut of Austin Vesely, which sadly comes across a little too clearly, the lack of focus within the story is evidence of a first-time writer/director trying his hand at a little of everything, and not figuring out how to tie it all together. To Vesely’s credit that’s often the nature of “Kitchen Sink Movies,” but at the same time, where Vesely fails is that he doesn’t go far enough. The entertainment factor is lessened with the film’s most madcap elements – the Ghost population, the werewolf and the serial killings – feel like the film having it’s insanity and trying to eat it too. With so many unnecessary plot points dragging the film out, there’s often way too long between craziness to have it stick out, dividing the film between normality, which feels out of place.
That’s not to completely take away from Vesely’s efforts because there is a good Schlocky B-Movie in here that could be found with some refinement. Maybe a little more gore and a bigger emphasis on the madness, specifically the Hell-Mouth which desperately needed to play more into the story. The parts that worked were often quite fun, Mayor Tracy was always good for a laugh, a moment with Astrid about half-way through caught me completely off-guard. I appreciate that the film went there and some of the smaller elements like the 80’s Synth score, Jack just ignoring all the warning of his ghost employee, and a lot of the Ghost Bigotry being brought about by the stupidity of the living all felt like strong additions to the film. I can see Vesely maybe getting some better work as a writer than a director in the future, hopefully with more practice, he can do better at both .
As much as I’ve enjoyed “Kitchen Sink Movies” in the past, Slice is sadly the proof of how hard they are to pull off. The story meanders without fully committing to its own insane premise, the characters have the problem of either not being given enough to do or not being funny enough to be memorable, and the direction is that of someone trying to go crazy, but being too afraid to really let loose. It is a shame because I can see this movie working in some regards, it might become a Cult Movie one day, but I think it needs some tightening up before it can reach that status.
I am giving Slice a 2 ½ out of 5 Hairpieces!