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Hipster Holy Grail: Warpath (2000)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Despite all the shit I'm about to talk about it, I have a lot of respect for the filmmakers behind Warpath.  It's a shot-on-video, clearly low-budget work of passion.  Mad props and all that for doing your best.  But wow, this is not really worth the time to dig up.  You want to see a revenge movie done as anemically as possible?  Watch Warpath.

My Rating: 1.5 / 5 (Failed Secret Comedy)

The Plot Summary

Jim Longfoot (Billy Parish) is a kinda boring dude with a ho-hum desk job who has precisely one character trait when the movie opens: he's partly Native American.  Hope that's enough of a hook for you, because it's all you're going to get out of him for about twenty minutes.

Jim has been dating his girlfriend, Heather (Michelle Jones), for about a month and has fallen madly in love with her.  They've decided to throw caution to the wind and elope as soon as possible.  Jim's uncle / employer hears about it and decides to host a small-scale wedding reception at his house, after which Jim and Heather are going to hit the road and go on a cross-country (maybe?) trip.

All of this takes a solid fifteen to twenty minutes to set up, which is extremely aggravating because you could easily do it in five.  Start the movie at the wedding.  Open with Jim's uncle talking to him before the ceremony, and have him say something like, "Are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this?  You've only been dating her for a month," and then Jim smirks and says, "I know it's crazy, but I can tell we're meant to be together!"  And then you can have Jim's suspicious Native American friend say something about him marrying a white girl, and then they get married and go on the road trip.  Boom.  Done.  See how easy that is?  Why'd you pad it out?  Padding goes in the middle, guy, not in the beginning.


They're on their road trip for about a minute before Heather sees a friendly-looking, guitar-carrying hitchhiker on the side of the road.  She urges Jim to pull over and give him a ride because "you'd want someone to do the same for you."  Jim wisely refuses, but then capitulates because he's just so gosh-darn in love.  Guitar Man hops in the backseat and tells them he's heading toward a commune that's in the same direction Jim and Heather are heading.

Now, this part is foolish, but so far Jim isn't being a complete fuckhead.  Picking up hitchhikers is not exactly a good idea, but it's understandable and realistic.  What's not understandable and realistic is following the hitchhiker's directions to drive up a dark, desolate, remote, gated road to a creepy trailer park in the wilderness where a group of weirdos are gathered around a bonfire in makeshift chairs.  (Acceptable etiquette in these situations is to drop your hitchhiker off at the gate and then leave.  You don't have to go inside.)

This is screaming at you that a murder is about to happen.  You know it's around the corner.  To his credit, Jim is aware of how terrible the circumstances look and wants to leave, but Heather insists they should join the weirdos at the fire and have dinner with them.  Despite every conceivable alarm going off right now in Jim's (and your) head, he once again agrees to go along with Heather's ill-advised bullshit.

Jim digs into a bowl of stew while the leader of the weirdos explains that they are a traveling church / cult made up of stoners and other drug fans.  He says a few nebulous bits of nonsense about faith and peace and whatever, but nobody cares because Jim starts to feel strange.  Oh, wait, did that stew that the creepy people hanging out in the middle of Fuckitall, Nowhere happen to have some kind of paralytic agent in it?  It did?  Well, shit, Jim, nobody could've seen that coming.

Doubled-over in pain and paralysis, Jim is incapacitated and can only watch helplessly as the cultists gather around to beat him.  The cult leader sets his sights on Heather and pins her down on the other side of the campfire to rape her.

They drag Jim off to the woods somewhere to shoot and kill him, but through a mix of luck, stupidity, and shenanigans, Jim rolls down a hill and runs away.  The cultists chase him through the woods and give up when they realize it's, like, really dark out.

Jim lays low for the night while the drugs wear off.  As he regains his strength, he has visions of his grandfather preaching to him about his Native American heritage and telling him to embrace his warrior's spirit.  This culminates with Jim leaping to his feet the next morning and ripping his shirt off so he can go kick some white cultist ass.

And he does.  For awhile.

The action isn't shot as well as you'd like, but there's a couple of good kill scenes here where Jim sneaks up on the cultists, Rambo-style, and kills them with his bare hands.  He gets into a fist-fight with Guitar Man and knocks him out, then scampers off to the woods to lay low again.

That's when a friendly cop shows up and asks Guitar Man what's going on.  GM gives the police a lame cover story about how he and his friends were out hunting in the woods when suddenly a psychotic Indian showed up out of nowhere and started attacking them.  The cop buys this, for some reason, and passes word back to the station.  Within minutes, Jim has escalated to the #2 spot on the state's Most Wanted List.

So now Jim is on the run from the law.  He doubles back to the campsite where Heather was raped and finds it abandoned and empty.  There's one good moment of tension here where he goes into a decrepit building and thinks he's going to find a dead body, but it just turns out to be garbage.  And then Jim hits the road in search of Heather's family.

We now cut to Cindy Lake (Amy Lindsay), a reporter who has heard about the murders and is trying to get more detail for a story she's writing.  Cindy has previously covered another series of murders involving a Native American suspect and I guess she thinks that might be a good subject to specialize in.

Cindy doesn't get very far, but her investigation eventually puts her in a small town where Jim happens to be heading.  He was on his way here originally in order to visit Heather's mom - but when he gets to her house, the woman who answers the door has no idea who Heather is.  Jim gets frantic and starts going door-to-door checking to see if anyone in town recognizes Heather's picture - nobody does.

This leads to a casually racist part where he asks the hostess of a restaurant if she recognizes Heather's picture.  After she says no, Jim leaves and the sheriff - who is hot on Jim's trail - comes in and asks her if she's seen "anybody suspicious."  Note that this is the exact wording he uses.  He doesn't say, "Have you seen an Indian?" But the hostess gleefully points Jim out, anyway.

Jim and Cindy cross paths at this point in a convenience store.  Jim realizes the heat's on, so he kidnaps Cindy and steals her car.  The cops chase them for about half a mile before Jim is able to shake them loose, and then he and Cindy start arguing about whether or not she is going to go back home - Jim insists he doesn't want to hurt her and he just needs to borrow her car, and Cindy, eager for a good story, pretends that she just doesn't want to lose her vehicle and insists on sticking around.

This is maybe the halfway point, and this is where you realize that the movie wanted to be a buddy comedy with Jim and Cindy.  They have a not-half-bad rapport; Jim is neurotic and panicky, and Cindy is snarky and deadpan.  It works sometimes, and even when it doesn't, Jim still has more chemistry with Cindy than he did with Heather.

They get to know each other a little better and then realize they're being chased by an ominous black pickup truck.  Soon Jim recognizes the driver of the truck as one of the cultists who tried to kill him, so now they're on the run again.  After another chase scene, they wind up crashing at a chintzy motel where they have some romcom moments about sharing a bedroom.

Cindy comes clean and admits that she's a reporter.  She wants to dig into Jim's history to find out why it is that the cultists are trying to kill him.  Oh, also, she wants to help clear his name.  Maybe.  If there's a good story behind it.  So they're off to do more investigative journalism, just as soon as they run away from the cultists who pop up here and there.

They get to a library where Cindy is able to get access to some archives and other public records, and she puts all the pieces together.  It turns out there was a huge lawsuit not long ago between a land development company and Jim's tribe.  The tribe won, and as part of the settlement they were given rights to a massive property worth millions of dollars.  However, the actual stakeholders of the tribe who would have gotten ownership have been dying mysteriously over the last few years, and Jim is next in line.  If he stays alive long enough to clear his name and submit some paperwork, he'll inherit everything and be super rich.

On the other hand... if he dies, his claim would go to Heather.  So, it's pretty clear now (if it wasn't before) that Heather was in cahoots with the cult all along and married Jim in order to get his land.  But Jim is a little bit slow and doesn't quite follow, so he's still pretty sure Heather's alright.  Also, he wants to check out the land in question.

They make one last trip to the climax of the movie, which takes place at an abandoned warehouse / industrial complex on Jim's land.  The cultists have set up shop here and are using it for a meth lab.  Jim spies on them and realizes, shock of all shocks, that Heather is alive and is actually the cult leader's girlfriend.  This is presented as a surprising reveal for some reason.

The cultists realize Jim is there, so they chase him and get involved in another series of poorly-choreographed fights.  Jim summons his ancestral spirits' strength again and uses that to set fire to the meth lab.  Then the cops come and arrest Heather, and the movie ends very suddenly.  Oh, also, Jim and Cindy are in love now.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

Warpath sadly falls into that category where a lot of small-budget features die where the filmmaking is juuuuust good enough to be forgettable.

The acting is all very stilted and awkward, but not so bad that you can't work through it.  (Everybody hits their marks and has the right facial expressions, at least.)  Pacing, characters, cinematography... all of it meets the most baseline level of quality you expect from a movie, which really helps you to get over the fact that it's shot on video and looks gross.  It's mostly competently made.  Sadly, that means you can't have much fun laughing at the sillier parts.

Not that they didn't have some missteps.  The parts of the movie that were most enjoyable were the rare bizarre directorial choices.  A good example: when Jim is first beaten up and hears his ancestors' spirit voices telling him to get back on his feet, they superimpose a grainy video projection of Jim's grandfather over a still of a full moon.  It looks ridiculous, and since it comes on the heels of a brutal rape / beating, you almost have no choice but to laugh.

If there was more of that, then Warpath would be at least a Varsity Bad Movie, if not a more accessible bad movie.  Instead, it just becomes a regular thriller that you have to evaluate using a legitimate set of non-ironic criteria.

Here's the catch: there's a fundamental identity crisis that undercuts any good the movie might have going for it.  When it starts, Warpath is a creepy suspense movie about a young couple stuck in the wilderness with some cultists.  Then it briefly becomes a revenge movie with a badass on a murder spree.  Then it cancels all that out and becomes a man-against-the-world mystery.  Those are three very different movies with three very different tones, and you don't have enough time for all of them to work.

Most of the runtime is spent on the third premise - the idea that Jim is wanted by the police and has to clear his name through amateur detective work.  That's for the best, considering the budget.  The few times it tries to be an action movie (premise #2), it fails to create a sense of danger or tension, and I don't think they had the acting chops to pull off premise #1 effectively.

There's a few scenes where the mystery premise almost works.  Billy Parish and Amy Lindsay have enough... well, "chemistry" is way too strong a word for it, but they've got enough mutual professionalism to work off each other and get a low-rent buddy road trip vibe going by the third act.  After they team up, the movie starts to pick up some steam and briefly gets interesting.

But there's a huge problem that holds it back: there isn't actually a mystery to solve.

The movie first sets it up as, "What happened to Heather?"  Then Jim asks around the town she supposedly grew up in and nobody has heard of her.  Warpath drops that detail as if it's some kind of juicy hint to string you along in a convoluted plot.  It isn't a hint.  It's cinematic shorthand for "Heather was working a con."  A smarter movie would assume that the audience understands this and it would make Jim figure it out quickly, too.  And then he'd be trying to figure out why Heather set him up and her motive would be the mystery, not her fate.

Instead, Jim comes across as a dimwitted loser.  He's so incapable of grasping Heather's plot that he has to physically see her alive and working with the cultists before he believes that she's been working against him.  This doesn't make him compelling or tragic - it makes him frustrating.  It's like the entire goddamn world is trying to explain the plot to him, and he keeps shaking his head and saying, "I don't know about that.  Are we sure Heather isn't dead in a ditch somewhere?"

By the time he finally accepts the movie's plot, it's practically over.  There's only like ten minutes left at that point and the movie has to rush through an extremely abrupt and bizarrely abridged climax.  The ending is so jarring and sudden that it feels like they ran out of money mid-scene.

So, in other words, you have a tonally inconsistent movie with a seemingly arbitrary plot that is unraveled and summarily denied by the dimwitted protagonist's new buddy / love interest, only for the movie to end by the time he's ready to take action.  It's pretty frustrating.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

Warpath gets a huge boost here from its obscurity.  It's only got 55 ratings on IMDb as of this review, which mean I can award it 50 hipster cred right off the bat.

There's a little bit of a bump for having Amy Lindsay, who apparently is a softcore performer of some note.  I've never heard of her until now, but that's the exact kind of fourth-tier celebrity that a hipster would be into.  More importantly, it gets a bump for having been directed by Peter Maris, who made one of my early HHG favorites, Alien Species.

Unfortunately, that's where the well runs dry.  Warpath isn't fun enough to want to share, so I'm not going to give it any other bonuses.  It gets 70 hipster cred, and good luck if you want that on your account at the Bank of Irony.

Where You Can Watch

I rented this from Netflix on a good ol'-fashioned DVD, and that seems to be the best way to get it if you're convinced you need to see it.  You can also buy it on Amazon if you decided you don't want a disc plan.