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Hipster Holy Grail: Outlaw Prophet (2001)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

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

I won't honestly recommend Outlaw Prophet to anybody.  There are too few entertainingly bad nuggets buried under miles of bad filmmaking.  But I'll say this much: if you're a hardcore bad movie fan looking for a way to screw over your bad movie fan friends, this would do well as your centerpiece.

My Rating: 1.5 / 5 (Varsity Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

The month of NoHeavenber continues with Outlaw Prophet, David Heavener's first fully self-funded feature.  It's... it's a thing.

Kinda like Dragon Fury from last week, this is a movie that's easier to sum up on a global scale than it is to describe from scene to scene.  The actual exposition is poorly doled out and hampered by so many bad effects that I was at a loss for the first half hour.  But let me try the long approach, anyway.

We open with some of the most wretched CGI animation I've ever seen depicting a spaceship flying through the galaxy.  Then we go inside and see a gray alien laying comatose in a cryogenic bed, until some magic technology kicks in and the camera cross-dissolves to John 141 (David Heavener) laying there instead.  I'm not clear on what exactly this means.  Is John 141 an alien in a human suit?  Did his skin morph and mutate and transform into a human shape?  Who knows.

He wakes up from his space sleep and a robot voice belonging to Molly (Rebecca Holden) starts giving him instructions.  Is Molly the ship's computer?  Is she a neural implant of some sort?  Is she a virtual helper, like a futuristic Siri / Cortana?  All of the above, I think.

But Molly isn't the only voice yapping in John's ear.  He's also being harassed by McBride (Ric White), a southern-accented alien who first appears to us in virtual form.  Which is another way of saying that he looks like a shitty 2D CGI-animated purple/green hamburger-thing that floats around incongruously with the world around him.

McBride's virtual form occasionally shoots weird rays out at people, so it seems like he's capable of interacting with people via his hamburger avatar.  However, the movie implies that the hamburgatar is more for show - when McBride really wants to prove a point or get his hands dirty, he appears in physical form, which looks like a long-haired dude wearing gray-blue body paint and sunglasses.

Anyway, virtual McBride gives John some nebulous commands about a mission of some sort, and after seeing more crappy special effects, John materializes inside of a dimly-lit labyrinth of dark-colored plywood.  It looks like he's in a laser tag arena, honestly.  A deadly laser tag arena.

He starts making his way through the... complex?  I'm not sure what I'm supposed to think this place is.  An enemy bunker of some sort, maybe?  Anyway, he starts making his way through it to try to stop a countdown of some sort that McBride assures him will kill a bunch of people.  Any time John rounds a corner, he comes face-to-face with zombie-like drones who all wear yellow jumpsuits and have the same gray-blue body paint as McBride.  John dispatches these guys by shooting them with his future gun, which makes them pixelate and cross-dissolve out of the scene.

John eventually gets to an ancient laptop computer and slappity-slaps the keys while getting angry.  McBride appears to have lied to him about stopping the nebulous countdown.  Or something.  And then there's more bad animation and I think something explodes.  If any of this is making sense to you, please let me know.

Then the screen proportion goes out of whack and turns into a bordered 4:3 aspect, and we realize that we're watching footage of John on some kind of alien TV.  Apparently, he's the star of Escape 2020, a popular reality TV show that's all about his real life adventures as he tries to save people that McBride mercilessly endangers from week to week.  Escape 2020 is the biggest hit in the universe.

This is as good a time as any to mention that the dialogue is hampered by a lot of trumped-up sci-fi-lite jargon.  McBride and others use words like "frequency" instead of "actor" to try to dress up this turd, so almost nothing that is said is readily understandable.  "This is the top-rated benzo-gram in the multiverse, with more than one trillion parsecs of alpha particles in the nebusphere!"  Et cetera, et cetera.  Hope you enjoy bullshit, kids.

Also, we keep cutting to McBride and his alien partner in their Escape 2020 control room, where they spend most of their time watching corny '50s alien movies while dropping a lot of meta comments.  If that doesn't sound insufferable, then congratulations - this movie is for you.

Alright.  So.  While all of that shit is going on, there's also some lady in Tennessee who's name I missed entirely who's trying to make contact with extra terrestrials.  She's got a homemade radio setup where she's monitoring a bunch of signals.  I'ma call her "Alieanna" so I've got something to refer to her by.

And while Alieanna's doing her thing, we also occasionally cut to Amy (Davita Sharone), a mute grade-school girl who's been passed around through various foster homes and is currently trying to deal with her cranky foster father who doesn't have any patience for her.  Amy decides to run away from home, so that's pretty much all we see her doing for the first half of the movie.

So... alright, back to John.  McBride tells him that the next episode of Escape 2020 will take place in Tennessee, and John has to do more bullshit or else the whole planet will explode.  So John goes to Earth and starts hunting for... something, and he runs into a Christian revivalist camp / barbecue where he and Molly have a lot of banter about strange Earth customs.

John finds Alieanna's radio setup and shoots it to shit, which may or may not be his mission.  Then he goes to the woods and fights some more yellow zombies, and McBride starts yelling at him for running away - apparently John is now defying his orders.  I would never have guessed.  Him being obedient looks exactly like him being defiant.

Virtual McBride shows up again, so John smashes his hamburgatar with a stick and it crashes into the ground, then transforms from CGI garbage to a rubber prop that looks almost exactly like a disembodied butt.  Except that the crack never ends.  It's got an eternity asshole, is what I'm saying.  Anyway, John splits the cheeks apart and finds a diamond inside.

John fucks around for a bit and ends up crossing paths with Amy near some train tracks.  They have a telepathic conversation in which Amy offers John her lunchbox, which contains the meager amount of food she thought to bring with her.  John puts McBride's ass diamond inside the lunchbox, then leaves to fight with more yellow zombies.

Then John gets warped out of Earth so he can appear on an alien late night talk show, which is described as being "sleazy," but which ends up being inconsequential.  I think what Heavener wanted was like an alien version of Jerry Springer, or at the very least, Chelsea Handler.  But it's more like an alien version of Larry King.

Anyway, some other bullshit happens, including some strange dreams John has where he's dancing with an angel named Mary and more Bible lessons.  I have to be perfectly honest with you - this is where I stopped giving the movie 100% of my attention.  Apologies to Mr. Heavener, but the rest of this plot recap is going to be a little on the lazy side.

So, some more happenstance takes place and John winds up back on Earth again.  I think he realized that McBride realized that Amy has his ass-diamond, so John is trying to protect Amy, and in a total coincidence, Alieanna has found Amy and quasi-adopted her as a little sister.  Some more yellow zombies show up and get into a fight with John, who suddenly has lost all ability to fight and gets shot a bunch of times.

Then Molly materializes into a human form - which I didn't know was even possible - and comes to save him.  She zaps the yellow zombies, and then human Molly, Alieanna, and Amy all drag John's comatose body to a warehouse where they hook him up to a bunch of surplus computer parts.  Amy prays for him to be healed, and then Alieanna teaches Molly about God.

Somewhere around here, Amy gets abducted by McBride.  He keeps her prisoner in his intergalactic TV station and tries to sign her up to a programming deal of some sort, which may or may not involve her giving up her soul.  Then Amy draws a cross and shows it to McBride, which makes his skin melt off.

So, yeah, turns out McBride is Satan.  In his own words, he's been going from galaxy to galaxy wreaking havoc, and nobody knew it was him until Amy figured it out just now.  His plot to undermine God and bring about the Apocalypse centers around reality television.  It's stunning commentary, I know.

John wakes up alive and well and teams up with human Molly and Alieanna to rescue Amy.  They warp to McBride's space station and have a bunch of chase scenes through more laser tag corridors.  I think Molly dies somewhere around here.  Then Alieanna and Amy go hunker down in a miscellaneous room while John squares off against McBride, one-on-one.

This part is probably the last great hurrah of the movie, so if you do plan to watch, you can turn it off after this scene.  The highlight: McBride punches John and says, "What are you going to do to me, huh?  Turn the other cheek?"  Then John stands upright and points his cheek at McBride, and a glowing laser cross suddenly appears and shoots out and scalds McBride's face.

Admittedly, that got a big laugh out of me, but the rest of this goes back to pure inanity.  There's more fighting and nonsense and John dies or something, but saves the planet, anyway.  Amy goes up to a soft white light and sees angelic forms of Molly and John, and they heal her so that she can speak.

Cut back to Earth nine months later.  Alieanna is nowhere to be seen, but Amy is hanging out at an orphanage waiting for her new parents to arrive.  All the other kids are watching a violent movie in the background.  The lady in charge of the place comes to Amy to tell her that her new adoptive parents are here, but she tries to downplay any expectations - "Remember, you keep getting sent back to us?  They might not totally love you."  But Amy is convinced that this time, her adoption will go smoothly; God told her so.

The parents come around the corner, and guess what?  The mom is that angel Mary that we kept seeing in John's dreams, and the dad is John.  Mary Mom takes Amy out of the room, and John Dad tells them he'll catch up in a second - he wants to watch the end of that violent movie first, apparently.

Cut to the TV.  The movie is one of those basic cable "features of the week" with McBride as a host.  He shows up on screen and talks directly to the camera, saying that he's received a lot of complaints from parents lately that his movies are too violent and bad for kids.  Then he openly mocks said parents and gives a speech that basically goes, "C'mon, we all know that you kids want the violence.  And I'ma give it to you.  Nobody can stop me!"

Then John says, "Wanna bet?" and turns off the TV.  End credits.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

I don't like to exaggerate or speak in extremes, but I'm fairly certain this is the worst David Heavener movie.

Note that I didn't say "least enjoyable."  (I think that honor is going to stay with Massacre, a movie that has completely lapsed from my brain except for muscle memory as to how painfully boring it was.)  But I don't think it's possible to find another film on his resume that has less technical competency than this.

It's very strange, too - Outlaw Prophet was hardly Heavener's first rodeo.  Some of the flaws can be forgiven when you accept that he had a lower budget to work with.  Cheesy effects?  Fine.  Worse acting?  It happens.  Crappy sets?  Sure, you do what you can with what you've got.

But the bad lighting?  The bad sound?  The oft-incomprehensible plot?  Those are rookie mistakes.  I'm not going to pretend that Prime Target or Dragon Fury are bastions of tight story-telling, but they at least answered the questions, "Who is this guy and why should I give a shit?"  Outlaw Prophet fails spectacularly to do that much.  You have two levels to work through: first you have to put up with the terrible audio/visual quality to decipher what's going on, and then you have to figure out how any of it makes sense.  It's so much work.

And yet, somehow the drop in quality almost makes this more fascinating.  This is a perfect example of a Varsity Bad Movie.  It has that train wreck appeal where you're having more fun dissecting all the misguided moments than you are laughing with or at the nonsense.

Oh, and is there ever some nonsense.  There are heaps of weird religious / quasi-political non sequiturs.  There are bullshit special effects sequences galore.  There are stilted fights, bad line reads, stupid character choices.  There's the ever-present ham-fisted commentary on reality television, replete with bad jokes and hypocritical musings.  And of course, there's the return of Heavener's never-quite-right editing, which either turns every interaction into an awkward social flop or whips your neck to pudding with jarring tonal shifts.

My favorite recurring bit is whenever you see Amy running away from home in the first half.  By itself, that footage is actually pretty upsetting, and I'll admit that as a father I found my heart-strings being irrationally tugged.  Even so, the way the movie cuts to her is ridiculous.  It'll start with some shit-kicking ballad playing in the background while John 141 screws around or says a one-liner, and then it abruptly cuts to Amy walking through the woods by herself while a sad, "I'm so lonely by myself" song plays overhead.  Then we'll cut back to the action and the music shifts back to "let's whup your ass" mode.

Hell, if that's how you're going to do it, you might as well use the sad Peanuts music.

Possibly the weirdest thing about this movie, though, is how close it came to a legitimately brilliant concept.  At the end of the day, Outlaw Prophet is about an alien who becomes Earth's Jesus-like savior.  And that is actually a terrific premise for a satire about demagogues.

Can't you just picture it?  Zorbak the Martian crashes on Earth and loses his memory.  Then he learns about Jesus and becomes convinced that he must be the second coming.  And since Zorbak's technology allows him to do all the miraculous things Jesus was said to have done, he amasses followers left and right.  I'm not saying that the plot is inherently funny, just that it makes sense and it could be hilarious in the right hands.

Alas, Heavener does not have those hands.  His are a bit too heavy.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

45 points for obscurity (it's right on the border of 100 ratings on IMDb), 30 points for being a full-on David Heavener production, and another 10 for the aliens and shitty special effects.

But I'm not going any higher than 85 hipster cred this week.  I know I gave Dragon Fury a perfect hipster score last week, and in some ways this movie is more deserving because of how out-and-out ridiculous it gets, but the bottom line is that this is not a movie you would really want to name drop.  Not unless you're already in the unlikely scenario of trying to one-up other David Heavener fans who have not seen Outlaw Prophet.

Still.  85 cred is a lot.  Good luck earning it, ya dummy.

PS - I'm sure I mentioned it in a previous post, but this and many of Heavener's movies are tagged with the Troma logo.  Ordinarily that would result in a hipster penalty, the same as if they were made by The Asylum.  However, Heavener's films are exempt because they were independently produced and are only distributed by Troma.  A crucial distinction for hipster cred, but probably of no interest whatsoever to everybody else.

Where You Can Watch

Outlaw Prophet was released on DVD, so technically you can watch it that way if you really hate your money.  But I'd recommend you spend your $10 on a donation to the NRDC or something and stream this one on Amazon Prime instead.