Jack, a man hiding out from his past in a small desert town will be forced to face what and who he really is when one if his customers, Ella, falls into trouble. Her drug addicted husband gets into an extremely bad spot with the psychotic drug king-pin, Buzz, and of course, drags her and their child along with him. What started out as a simple house call for Jack is going to be turned into a full blown war.
I wasn't aware of Ward Robert's film "Dust Up" until the press release hit my inbox and to be frank, I was instantly turned off when I read the information. I hadn't read a single review and never even watched the trailer but upon reading the label of it being a "grindhouse homage" and the obviously exaggerated claims of the film's disturbing, disgusting and offensive. My upper lip curled as if someone had just swiped their shit caked fingers under my nose and I shut the movie out. At this point in the life of cinema, these purposely schlocky "grindhouse" nu-ploitation movies are a dime a dozen, and to me, "Dust Up" seemed like just another garbage title. But the folks at Breaking Glass Pictures acquired distribution rights so here I am, with a screener copy sitting in my lap.
Taking place in a small, isolated desert town Jack is trying to live a normal life and repent for his past misdeeds. Along with his buddy Mo (a honky with delusions of being an Injun…er…Native American), this seems to be working out for the two of them as every day is nothing but another boring, peaceful day. That is until Ella calls on Jack (he makes his living as a handy-man) to come and fix the pipes at her house. It's this seemingly innocent repair call that causes the lives of these characters to spiral out of control and has them taking to arms to battle local evangelical drug king-pin, Buzz.
Initially, "Dust Up" wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, or rather, it was more watchable in comparison to some of its ironically-schlocky cinematic brethren. I'm not really sure where to start with this review so I guess I'll go with all the things that "Dust Up" is not. I don't know for sure if Ward had indeed intended "Dust Up" to be a "grindhouse homage" or if that was simply the advertising tagline it was stuck with. Regardless, it's not grindhouse. Not even sort of. Why? Simply because it's not homaging any real grindhouse movies that existed. Rather it's playing on some film genre clichés (I'll get into that later) but more or less it plays on stereo types in regards to certain movies that don't actually exist. People just think they do simply because certain styles and directing choices are popular.
"Dust Up" is also not offensive, shocking, disturbing or any other misplaced adjectives to make the movie seem that it is a daring title and not just another purposeful, wannabe b-movie. The movie definitely wants to be offensive but no matter what, it seemed like the more it tried, the worse it made the movie. These moments made "Dust Up" feel almost a bit childish at times and definitely felt unnecessarily forced through out. There's one scene in particular that really defined how desperately the movie wanted to shock me and that was when the antagonist, Buzz, finally snapped after his house and bar is destroyed. He ends up killing his own boss and in the moment Buzz ejaculates and actually blows his load on the person. I couldn't help but think why. I can't imagine that the target audience for this movie would actual find this "offensive" or "shocking". Certainly not these days when more filmmakers are interested in creating sensationalism rather than creating a good movie. And no matter how you break it down, whether you look at it being done for shock or comedy, it's still a forced moment that wasn't needed. It does cheapen the overall movie because it seems as though the people weren't confident with the material that they did have so they threw in these moments; ones that they thought would guarantee a response. It's also disappointing because Jeremiah Birkett, who plays as Buzz, does a great job of being the bad guy. It's well acted and well written character for what type of movie "Dust Up" is, so again, those cheap moments did more harm than good for the overall picture.
At this point I'm sure it sounds like I hated the movie and that it made me grumpy. Granted I didn't like it but I didn't hate it either. Part of the reason I dislike it is because "Dust Up" is playing on a trend of what I want to call hipster cinema (see: "Hobo With A Shotgun", "The FP", "T is for Turbo" and "The Taint" for further clarification on this term). They're trying to be campy and usually go over-the-top with the stupidity because they believe that's funny and that's what the movies, the ones that they're supposedly paying homage to, did as well. With "Dust Up", the movie didn't take the ridiculousness as far and wasn't as stupid as these movies tend to get.
Then the best thing I liked about the movie and its biggest saving grace was the cast. Aaron Gaffey (Jack, the vigilante), Devin Barry (Mo, the white Native American), Amber Benson (Ella, the not-so-helpless damsel in distress) and Travis Betz (Herman, Ella's drug addicted and idiotic husband) meshed very well and helped make what could have very easily been a generic movie, entertaining. They each played their characters well, particularly Aaron Gaffey -- he was able to nail the action hero with a troubled past cliché quite well. And even though I don't care for the direction Ward took his movie in, the overall movie has a good setup and was well conceived. The story, plot points and characters are built on genre film clichés, like I mentioned earlier, and it's actually done very well. Had the movie played it more straight, instead of going for the cheap gags, it would have worked as a more clever, tongue-in-cheek b-homage.
But I digress, ultimately the reason I didn't care for "Dust Up" is because I am entirely the wrong audience for the movie. While I did find some good in it, I am very tired of these movies -- the over-the-top genre homages. It all feels the same: cheap, unimaginative and needlessly stupid. However, I seem to be one of the very select few who feels this way about "Dust Up" as it appears to be playing extremely well for everyone else. And I'll admit that the movie isn't a total loss; it does have some good writing behind it, a great cast, there are some funny moments and it has some good production quality. There just wasn't enough good material to get me to look past all the bad, or rather, all the things that I thought were bad. I wouldn't recommend the movie, but again, I'm not really in the position to recommend or not recommend it.