Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory is a periodic check-in on what’s going on in the world of movies that didn’t make it to theaters.
In a less geek-friendly age, a charming, talented, and well-liked man like Seth Green would be forced to live out his entire professional life as a character actor, subject forever to the capricious whims of a fickle industry. He would have whiled away the prime of his career playing roles like the one in 2009’s Old Dogs, where his character is sexually menaced by a gorilla for ostensibly comedic purposes. And while nobody wants to be sexually menaced by a gorilla, even fewer want to play a character who gets sexually menaced by a gorilla in an ill-considered buddy comedy starring John Travolta and Robin Williams. So it’s probably for the best that these days, Green makes his living less as a comic character actor than as a professional geek.
Seth Green has devoted much of the past eight years of his career to playing with toys as one of the main voices and minds behind the pop-culture-crazy stop-motion-animation vehicle Robot Chicken. Though I suppose Adult Swim signs his checks, in my imagination Green just shows up to a giant playroom every morning and frolics all day. Then at the end of the month, Chewbacca and the television show Star Trek—not the people behind the show but the show itself—pay his mortgage and give him a little walking-around money for action figures and videogames and whatnot.
Green has ridden the wave of geek culture to a pretty sweet place, where he can make a handsome living goofing around for the benefit of an appreciative, equally geeky audience. He even received the official benediction of George Lucas himself, who gave the green light for Robot Chicken to release a Star Wars-themed special and several sequels. All of this has afforded Green the opportunity to play god over a crazy comic-book/science-fiction world that is increasingly becoming the mainstream of pop culture.
From Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Family Guy to Robot Chicken, television has been exceedingly kind to Green. Movies have been less indulgent, yet he nevertheless veers back into the world of film with 2013’s Sexy Evil Genius, a baroque, darkly comic mystery that pairs Green with two other monarchs of the geek world, Michelle Trachtenberg and Katee Sackhoff.
Sexy Evil Genius is so geek-friendly it suggests a junior version of Sushi Girl, a macabre dark comedy of revenge that similarly spun a cult-friendly cast (Mark Hamill, Tony Todd, Sonny Chiba, Michael Biehn) through a claustrophobic, sinister evening of machinations. Like Sushi Girl, Sexy Evil Genius feels more like a staged reading for a play than a film, despite the liberal use of flashbacks to break up the monotony of five characters sitting around a bar hashing out their pasts and the charismatic central figure that brought them together.
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) vamps her way through the role of that central figure, a quintessential sexy crazy girl whose wild-child ways play havoc with the lives of everyone in her orbit. Sexy Evil Genius conceives of Sackhoff as a figure of Poochie-like magnetism: She’s supposed to be so charismatic, wild, life-affirming, and soul-destroying that whenever she’s not onscreen all anyone can talk about is how violently she throttled their soul. But though Sackhoff is supposed to be a figure of irresistibly Poochie-like awesomeness, she’s actually a creature of Poochie-like lameness.
Sexy Evil Genius opens with Green and Michelle Trachtenberg striking up a conversation at a bar, which they’ve come to at the behest of Sackhoff, who once riveted them both and now sees them as pawns to use for her own furtive purposes. The movie wastes no time establishing its cast as broad caricatures: Green is such a square that when Trachtenberg blows his mind with the revelation that she met Sackhoff in Narcotics Anonymous, he assumes that just means that they’ve smoked a whole lot of reefer cigarettes together. When Trachtenberg informs Green and that she and Sackhoff were lovers, and had lots of amazing, mind-blowing lesbian sex with each other, the film pauses for a while so that audiences can take some time to really ponder the implications of that statement, and possibly pen some fan fiction about such a scenario.
Green’s uptight Poindexter and Trachtenberg’s bisexual goth are soon joined by an even more ridiculous caricature of an ex-lover in the form of Harold Perrineau, a hep jazz cat who immediately establishes his bona fides as a soulful dude when he enthuses of Sackhoff, “Me and Nikki had this sweet musical groove going for a while. You know that girl is like Bruce Lee on the bongos, right?”
Yes, when Perrineau was with Sackhoff, she was a stone-cold jazz fiend beating them bongos like Gene Krupa hopped up on Bolivian marching powder. But when she was with her other lovers, she mocked jazz, loved cheesy classic rock, and nursed a fierce fondness for My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, a band that inexplicably figures prominently in the proceedings.
Sexy Evil Genius wants to toy with issues of identity, to comment on the way our personalities, interests, and senses of selves can shift dramatically from partner to partner as we re-create ourselves in the image of the people we want to impress. Instead, Sackhoff’s character comes off as a flashy, incoherent, unconvincing cipher who has no real identity; she’s whatever the film needs her to be for any given scene. She sometimes feels like a version of the mutable fantasy figure Eliza Dushku played on Dollhouse: She is whoever you need her to be and ultimately no one really at all.
Sackhoff doesn’t even show up at the bar until nearly a half hour in, but she makes an appropriately dramatic entrance, doling out drinks and kisses. Yet she seems less like a firecracker of uncontrollable, irresistible sexuality and more like a drag queen shamelessly vamping her way through a melodramatic and exhausting mystery of her own devising.
William Baldwin next enters the fray as the corrupt lawyer who got Sackhoff out of the loony bin and fell in love with her in the process. Sackhoff proudly introduces him as her fiancé, but he doesn’t seem overly excited about the prospect of marrying her, for reasons that should be apparent. Baldwin was once his own man, but these days he’s pretty much his brother Alec’s non-union equivalent: the same godly voice in an empty suit of a man.
Sexy Evil Genius wants to cultivate an aura of mystery and excitement around Sackhoff. What are her ultimate motives? Is she crazy? Evil? Manipulating the situation to her advantage? Is she out for revenge? Out of her mind? Yet the film gives us no reason to care about the answers to any of those questions. It leans far too heavily on the iconic baggage Sackhoff brings over from Battlestar Galactica instead of writing something worthy of the film’s hyperbolic claims about her force of character.
As the title suggests, Sexy Evil Genius tries way too hard. It treats itself to a victory lap before the game has even begun and never stops patting itself on the back for its wildly inflated sense of outrageousness. It’s as patently phony as Perrineau’s reply to accusations that he’s kitschy: “There’s nothing kitschy about having soul, living jazz, rolling to your own groove. It’s authentic.” There’s nothing authentic, or even particularly entertaining about the empty and exhausting Sexy Evil Genius. It’s a dark joke without a punchline, a riddle not worth solving, and another powerful inducement for Green to return to the greener pastures of television.
Just how bad is it? Oh, it’s pretty dire.