Bloody Knuckles

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/11/15 16:09:37

"Packs a funny punch even if it's just a fist."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 17: If "Bloody Knuckles" filmmaker Matt O'Mahoney knows one thing, it's that measured calls for free speech are kind of missing the point. You can't just say that offensive media has value, you have to demonstrate it, so it's a good thing that his movie is crude, rude, and entertaining.

After an opening bit that shows just what disgustingly lethal things the rich and powerful can get away with, we meet Travis (Adam Boys), an underground cartoonist being profiled by alternate weekly writer Amy (Gabrielle Giraud). His comic has recently taken to targeting Chinese gangster Leonard Fong (Kasey Ryne Mazak), and Fong doesn't take it well, sending his men to assault Travis and cutting off his hand. It works - Travis becomes a cowed, drunk wreck - but the hazardous chemicals dumped by Fong somehow revive Travis's discarded hand, and it certainly hasn't lost its zeal for speaking truth to power through its drawings.

It's pretty easy to disdain Travis from the start; he may be idealistic but he's the sort of bomb-thrower who doesn't much care about the chaos his words may lead to and cocky besides, while Amy seems a bit more measured. He's a sort of dilettante, a middle-class white guy whose activism focuses on things that aren't at the core of his life, so it's not a huge surprise that his zeal all seems to wind up in his hand, drained from him when it's cut off. He's got to relearn not just expressing himself but actually feeling outrage without his main tool, and it's kind of impressive how well O'Mahoney works this story in through the comedy; it's a thing that many more serious movies would make seem too pat because they put it up front.

Fortunately, the funny stuff is front and center. There's more than a hint of mean-spritiedness to some of it - O'Mahoney can tend to attack bystanders with the same glee one might reserve for the truly deserving, and can push the violence a little far at times - and the gross-out gags come much easier than any sort of sharp wit, but the jokes are sold with exuberance, and the film's willingness to make everybody look foolish on occasion serves it well. Everybody has a chance to be funny from the largest to the smallest parts.

Some of the side characters are actually the best. Don't mistake, Adam Boys and Gabrielle Giraud are very enjoyable in the leading roles, bringing the right energy to characters who could easily bounce between bland and insufferable. Some of the best bits come from the bantering henchmen played by Tim Lok, Jason Asuncion, Robin Jung, and Kent S. Leung, which is always fun. The last act of the movie is absolutely stolen by Dwayne Bryshun as a revenge-seeking gay giant in leather, giving the sort of complete commitment to some of the script's nuttiest bits that almost makes one demand a spin-off of some sort, even if what we see is probably the exact right amount.

Credit should also go to Krista Magnusson, whose work raises the question of whether someone getting their hand built up with prosthetic makeup to portray a severed one is technically doing puppetry, mime, or acting. It's a nice job regardless, a highlight of the mostly-practical effects O'Mahoney's crew manages, both with the hand and the frequent bits of gore. They do slick work for a movie that often has a dark and grimy aesthetic without ever feeling like the movie has strayed too far from its underground roots.

It does stray a bit - the logistics of making this sort of exaggerated in-your-face movie are more complicated than with the equivalent comics - but it does accomplish its goal of entertaining and making a point even while pushing the audience a bit further than it might like to go. After all, free speech isn't just for those who get every little bit right, and the points where "Bloody Knuckles" stumbles just help make that clear.

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