‘Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia’: Film Review

February 8, 2020 12:38PM PT

This exquisite-corpse narrative by numerous Miami-based directors is an absurdist delight until it wears out its welcome.

As if to apologetically clear the cinematic air for Miami, “cigarette” power boats, and art in general after the atrocity of 2018’s John Travolta vehicle “Speed Kills,” “Omniboat” applies a brisk scrub of cleansing absurdism to the same locational and vehicular themes. This de facto compilation feature by a dozen-plus writer-directors, commissioned by that city’s indie filmmaking collective the Borscht Corporation, is an exquisite-corpse narrative depicting the rocky times of one 47-foot Top Gun speedboat. It’s an inspired goof — for a while, before it turns into waaaaaay too much of a good thing.

As the anarchic randomness ceases to delight and morphs into a viewer endurance test, it becomes clear this “Fast Boat Fantasia” would have been better digested as a series of webisodes, rather than in one eventually wearying two-hour feature. Still, it’s an adventurous experiment with some great bits, and might yet achieve the cult status that would’ve been ensured by a less unwieldy scope.

Somewhat refreshingly, the episodic progress is not formally broken into segments (even in the closing credits), so it’s hard to know who did what. Contributing filmmakers encompass a range of music video directors, multimedia artists, commercials specialists, one choreographer, and indie feature familiars such as Xander Robin (“Are We Not Cats”), Terence Nance (“An Oversimplification of Her Beauty”), Hannah Fidell (“The Long Dumb Road”), plus the duo known as Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, of “Swiss Army Man”). What is clear is that they were given very free creative rein, allowing for budgetary limits that manage not to be felt whatsoever in this often wildly colorful, stylistically diverse, imaginatively unfettered production.

Popular on Variety

A running thread is the struggle of somewhat sleazy developer type
Jim Cummings (Mel Rodriguez) to build an eponymous luxury residential tower that will be the most conspicuous monument to nouveau riche Miami lifestyling yet. Unfortunately, the region’s latest economic boom goes bust mid-construction, leaving him one more over-ambitious hustler scrambling to bail out a sinking personal-finance ship.

While that element offers cogent socioeconomic satire, the majority of “Omniboat” is comedy of a more demented stripe, chronicling the travails of the boat whose party-yuppie first owner (Adam Devine) tastefully names it Lay’n Pipe. When it becomes a bank-seized asset, it’s hauled off to the junkyard, from which (after a subtitled horn conversation like the one between automobiles in Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors”) it flees with a towtruck lover, eventually giving “birth” to a wee wheel-footed baby boat.

Later sections include ones in the style of a TV true-crime show (“Boat Repo”); an effortfully cool uncle (Adam Pally) taking his bar mitzvah-ready nephew (“Stranger Things’” Finn Wolfhard) out for an aquatic spin that lands them on the dock of local rap legend Luther Campbell; and a woman (Amy Seimetz) who leaves her husband to pursue a romantic relationship with, well, Lay’n Pipe. There are also Cuban boat refugees; scenes utilizing puppetry, animation and modern dance; mock-maudlin family drama involving experimental medical VR simulation; a gangsta thriller-cum-fantasy; a “Creature From the Black Lagoon”-type monster; and finally Robert Redford as the voice of God, or something like.

All this is quite exhilaratingly nuts for quite some time, i.e. about 45 minutes. But by midpoint, “Omniboat’s” essential formlessness and arbitrariness generates its own kind of monotony, which grows rather dull — even if most individual segments here would still be divertingly funny and weird if encountered on their own, or in shorter groupings. In the end, this is like any amusement park ride: great fun while the novelty holds up. Being stuck on it for two full hours, however, may induce “please, make this stop already” emotions.

While the overall pacing and nonsense content don’t vary enough to hold one’s attention for that span, “Omniboat” is still admirable for the polished diversity of its contributors on every level, from performers to production design to music to FX. Even aspect ratios cover the gamut. There’s so much crazy invention to this project, it’s a pity the whole is exhaustingly so much less than the sum of its parts — suggesting those parts will probably have a long afterlife as viral excerpts. The original whole, on the other hand, may turn into that kind of perennial party-watch favorite which people generally fall asleep on or wander drunkenly away from before finishing.

‘Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia’: Film Review

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 27, 2020. Running time: 116 MIN.

Production: A Bow & Arrow Entertainment, Borscht Corporation production. (Int’l sales: Endeavor Content, Beverly Hills.) Producers: Olivia Lloyd, Phil Lord, Taylor Shung, Michael Sherman, Matthew Perniciaro. Executive producers: Lucas Leyva, Jillian Mayer, Brett Potter. Co-producers: Nathan Harrison, Emma Hannaway, Rebecca Karch, Dylan Redford.

Crew: Directors: Daniels, Hannah Fidell, Alexa Lim Haas, Lucas Leyva, Olivia Lloyd, Jillian Mayer, The Meza Brothers, Terence Nance, Brett Potter, Xander Robin, Dylan Redford, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, Celia Rowlson-Hall. Screenplay: Daniels, Fidell, Haas, Leyva, Lloyd, Phil Lord, Mayer, Meza Brothers, Nance, Potter, Robin, Redford, Rodriguez, Rowlson-Hall. Camera: Wayland Bell, Ian Bloom, Ryan Booth, Christopher Campa, Matt Clegg, Ashley Connor, Daniel Fernandez, Dan Frantz, Deborah Jiminez, Robert Leitzell, Adam Newport Berra, Ian Takahashi, Andrew Wheeler, Eric Yue, based on a PDF by Leyva. Editors: Ryan Brown, Zachariah Clark, David Fenster, Harrison Fishman, Haas, Joel Kraus, Matthew C. Levy, Leyva, Lloyd, Dean C. Marcial, Diego Meza-Valdes, Potter, Iva Rad, Redford, Robin, Paul Rogers, Robert Struthers. Music: James Burnett, Michael John Hancock, Adam Robl, Shawn Sutta, Alessandro Tabora, James Tanner, Conrad Winslow.

With: Rhea Butcher, Adam Devine, Cameron Esposito, Jason David Frank, Jon Glaser, Uncle Luke, Jillian Mayer, Adam Pally, Aubrey Plaza, Doug Lussenhop, Dylan Redford, Mel Rodriguez, Amy Seimetz, Jessica Williams, Saul Williams, Casey Wilson, Finn Wolfhard, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Houston Cypress, Valentine Thomas, Robert Redford. (English, Spanish dialogue)