“Flying Scissors” Movie Review

finally, a movie about rock, paper, scissors, has been made.
here is the review by: bacon, egg, and chase

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why does paper beat rock?
a review of a little-known indie film about the greatest form of conflict resolution

dating back to my high school days (and possibly even earlier) i always had a running joke that rock, paper, scissors should be used to determine all major conflicts, including legal battles, financial disputes, even wars(*). it was the way we determined who rode shotgun in a car(**), who got to play madden first or who paid for pizza. it’s quite an effective (and fun) system for making decisions, big or small.

*how awesome would it have been to watch a nationally-televised event where bush and saddam settle the iraqi war through a world series (best-of-seven) rock, paper, scissors match? actually strike that. it’d be terrifying to have to bank on w.’s skills at anything, let alone something as simple and juvenile as rock, paper, scissors.

**when someone called “shotgun” before entering a car, any other passenger could call a “joust” – a best-of-three rock, paper, scissors duel.

i also really like mockumentaries, particularly random, spoofy indie mockumentaries. so when i discovered a mockumentary about a rock, paper, scissors competitive league, the flying scissors (2009), directed by jonah tulis, i knew i was in for a treat (or a 90-minute long disaster… but either way, i was good to go.)

honestly, i have got to say, it wasn’t horrendous…  and it really could have been.

surprisingly, the flying scissors – which clearly didn’t have a hollywood budget – has the tone and pace similar to that of a christopher guest  film(***), and the humor is more intelligent than one would anticipate. it’s basically a cross-breed of best in show, balls of fury and dodgeball (just without the star power of a guest movie or the brilliant writing of thomas lennon and robert ben garant), where a niche competition is shown through the kaleidoscope of its interesting and eccentric cast of competitors.

***albeit, a “poor man’s” christopher guest film.

and the competitors in the national rock, paper, scissors league (nrpsl) – known as “throwers” – are quite eccentric, particularly:

  • leon washington (comedian mike britt), the foul-mouthed, trash-talking thrower and self-proclaimed “michaelangelo of urban linguistics” from the streets. leon is tough and urban, but has a hidden “whiteness” – it comes out that he likes art, uses condoms, and is a “big brother” to a little red-headed british kid (easily the funniest scene in the film).
  • leslie hanrahan (susan o’connor), a hardcore feminist who goes to extreme lengths to “find herself” before the yearly competition. she also has a hilarious scene that introduces her “new-wave, all-girl, punk-alt” band.
  • the rock (devin ratray, best known for his role as older brother buzz in the home alone movies), is a feared rps champion who only throws rock (hence the name) and can easily psyche out his opponents. his backstory is terribly clever.

the list of quirky characters goes on and on. in fact, i believe there may be too many characters that get extended screen time, and that’s where the flying scissors comes up a little short. as intelligent and witty as the writing may be, some of its execution doesn’t really work – particularly with the large ensemble. bruce wong (keong sim), for example, should have been the comedy lynchpin of the film – an asian rps competitor with an obsession for math, his ex-girlfriend and being a bathroom attendant(****) – but his scenes felt rushed and half-assed, and sim just simply doesn’t have the comedy chops to make the role memorable. phil stevens (mason petit), who is more-or-less the central character of the film, could have easily been removed from the movie. sure, some of the scenes featuring him and his family were funny, but take all of those scenes out and the movie still works, and in fact, may work better.

****his standards for tipping were off-the-charts hilarious.

the truly endearing character, who should have been the main focus, is frank johnson (longtime tv journeyman todd susman). frank is an old-school rps thrower, battling bad arthritis, performance-enhancing allegations and a dwindling career overshadowed by the success of his former-best friend and rps world champion, woody stone. frank’s storyline should have been fleshed out more, as he was a character that you wanted to root for (as opposed to phil). i would have much rather seen a few more scenes featuring frank – as well as more of leslie the feminist and leon washington – rather than scenes featuring phil, the duo of barry stine and anna carlson, and bruce wong (as funny as his scenes could have/should have been).

one other issue i have with the flying scissors is the casting. it seems that while writing the film, tulis and writing partner blake j. harris, had a few stars in mind for specific roles. it’s evident that they had written the feminist role of leslie for amy sedaris (o’connor is a spitting image, both in her comedy-stylings and expressions) and i’m almost certain that alan pope, commissioner of nrpsl, was written for the aforementioned thomas lennon (the state, reno 911). i’m not familiar with matthew arkin, who plays pope (though i have seen some movies he was in – death to smoochy, liar liar) but he is eerily similar to lennon, from his voice to his looks to his mannerisms. it shouldn’t, but for some reason, that bothered me throughout the film. i just couldn’t stop thinking about how much better the real lennon would have been in the role. but you can’t fault a small production for trying – it would have been pretty unlikely that they’d land someone of lennon’s talent/stature/price in such a low-budget film.

all in all, the flying scissors is a worthwhile movie, particularly if you’re stoned and need to kill 90 minutes. but if you’re a fan of mockumentaries(*****), goofy indie flicks, or are just a fan of some good ‘ole rock, paper, scissors, you should definitely give it a shot. you could watch a lot worse.

*****it’s very similar to the calcium kid, a boxing mockumentary starring orlando bloom that you may have caught on comedy central one saturday afternoon over the past year or two.

some other quick, un-spoilery highlights:

  • leon washington, on using innocuous trash-talking: “i said macaroni salad. and dude shit his pants!”
  • the vignettes featuring professor clarence kay are brilliant, including the 1950’s-style educational video of rps (an homage to the educational film in dodgeball with patches o’houlihan and the five d’s of dodgeball: dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge).
  • any scene involving raymond patterson (eddie clark), the commissioner of the coin toss consortium, the nrpsl’s rival league.
  • david sandberg’s (benim foster) “homeless marketing” idea (“they reach 10,000 people a day!”). also, sandberg’s backstory about the iraqi war marketing disaster.
  • a cameo by william bogert, best known for his role as narrator kent wallace in the classic chappelle show sketch, “black white supremacist.”
  • a shout out to yuengling lager!

the flying scissors is available here, and is also streaming on netflix.

here is the trailer

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