(Canada, 145 min.)
Written and directed by Vincent Valentino
Starring: Vincent Valentino, Randy Mars, Andrew Gordon Johnson, Angela Parent, Delaney Hinds, Donna Lynn, Ron Jeremy.
Biff Wellington, as far as I know, is the first local production to feature both Ron Jeremy and an exorcism. Take that, House at the End of the Street! Jennifer Lawrence is no longer the benchmark for what Ottawa films can offer.
Ron Jeremy and the exorcism represent both the best and the worst of Biff Wellington, as this debut feature by prolific short filmmaker/film challenge regular Vincent Valentino offers riotous balls-to-wall humour, but ultimately falls short of its potential by letting everyone join the party. Getting a name like Jeremy is especially impressive since Biff Wellington carries a budget of in-kind time donated by cast and crew (many players assume the roles interchangeably for this film) and his three scenes are silly highlights in this spoof of the porn biz’. Jeremy plays the father of Biff Wellington (Valentino, who offers an amiable comedic lead), the faded X-rated star of the Ottawa porn scene, and it’s impossible not to chuckle when he and Biff compete in a cock-off.
It makes sense that this campy B-movie parody pulls together the two most prominent areas of the Ottawa film scene: porn and film challenge spirit. The former is where folks make their money and the latter is where folks make their films. (Well, they make films in form, too, I guess.) Biff Wellington is a DIY crowd-pleaser that pokes fun at shoddy filmmaking and (thankfully) never takes itself too seriously. This amusing first feature by Valentino shows that a little spirit can go a long way. If everyone has fun making the movie, then the audience can too.
The film has a fun premise at its core with Biff, an 80s porn sensation/has been, coming out of his flaccid retirement when a sleazebag producer wants to go retro and revive the porn biz from online junk similar to how vinyl gave music its mojo back in the age of the MP3. Biff recruits the old gang from his porn days, beginning with Randy (a buffoonish Randy Mars) and Allen Cocks (a flighty Andrew Gordon Johnson). The two fellow actors come out of retirement and form a silly Three Stooges-style troupe with Biff as they reclaim their manly mojo.
The gang assembles all the right gangbangers including a starlet, a soundman, a director, a fluffer, and a homeless masturbator. (The latter of which is a gag from Valentino’s Digi60 short Sparx.) Many members of Biff’s entourage are played by fixtures of the local film challenge/amateur filmmaking scene and they bring ample enthusiasm to both the film and the film within the film, although (thankfully) nobody goes full porno on either front. The regulars range from spiritedly silly (Penelope Goranson is fun an over-the-hill tramp) to WTF (Bob Wylie, who offers a running gag as a coffee-swilling creeper) to cringe-inducing (Danielle Washam, as Allen’s surly wife) and some make the transition from short to feature better than others do.
A five-minute short made under time constraints brings a different set of expectations than a feature film with a ten dollar admission does, and audiences outside of the local scene probably won’t be as forgiving of Biff Wellington as Ottawans are, but local film goers can nevertheless enjoy the stream of inside jokes and familiar references. Biff Wellington uses Ottawa locations effectively as it takes the gang’s shenanigans from The Mayfair to The Happy Goat, and it provides a healthy guide to the local bar scene with pit stops at the dirty Oak, Whispers, The Highlander, and more, although some of the visits to watering holes (including a lengthy dance session in Centretown Pub) could easily be removed without diluting the local flavour. The plot makes little sense once Biff’s production goes underway and a possessed actress (Caren Macnevin) requires a sexorcism and a random barman (Delany Hinds) sets Biff and co on a quest for a golden dildo and the orgasm to end all orgasms, but coherence isn’t the objective of Biff Wellington. It’s often a lot of fun if one just goes with it.
If one isn’t in the mood, though, Biff probably has a few too many moves as it piles on stylistic tics that don’t boogie with the retro feel. For one, Biff goes on numerous cranky tangents that coincide with a sci-fi filter called the “Rage Meter,” which calculates the twitches on Biff’s eye and measures his rising hot-headedness. Biff’s tirades work okay for injecting Biff Wellington with the sense of hypermasculinity associated with porn, but the Rage Meter doesn’t work at all with its superfluous special effects and stylistic inconsistencies. Similarly, the unfocused plot yields a Blue Screen of Death, a musical number, the unexplained possessed porn star, a mack daddy pimp/porn star who suffers from vitiligo and Benjamin Button disease, and a bunch of self-conscious references to the filmmaking process in which Valentino, Mars, and Johnson break character and discuss the development of the film. The self-referential bits acknowledge the gaps in the production and remind viewers to take the film with a grain of salt since it’s not a Hollywood affair. While they appropriate Biff’s modest circumstances as part of its style, they also take away from the focus on the fun spin on the adult film world.
One could roughly balance the scales of Biff Wellington by separating everything that works from everything that doesn’t. Biff Wellington generally fares much better than other recent local efforts, although countless bit parts pepper some pointless digressions and the fun retro vibe loses its focus amidst varying styles. (The film credits almost a dozen cinematographers thanks to the cast’s willingness to pitch in on crew duties, and the shared duties result in an awkward range of visuals.) There’s a good cult film in the making here, but a lot of ineffective material presumably remains because so many members of the local scene offered their time pro-bono for a credit and big screen exposure. Biff Wellington probably better serves the collective if a few actors take one for the team and opt to star in the bonus features on the DVD rather than in the theatrical feature.
Biff Wellington, as it currently stands, might ultimately be more fun as a filmmaking exercise than as a film experience given the cut that screened at The Mayfair to a decently sized crowd. The film’s as freakishly long as a porn star’s, err, asset. Biff Wellington clocks in at almost two-and-a-half hours when, even as one character says in a self-referential aside, the team should aim for eighty minutes. Fortunately, one can easily spot the hour or so of footage that could be snipped without doing the film any harm. (I.E. keep Ron Jeremy; lose the sexorcism.) The porn star’s stamina is impressive given the consistent energy in the theatre, but Biff could be decent cult hit of the Ottawa film scene à la Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter if it did its business with one quick and dirty thrust. Even a porn star might admit that a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am can be better business.
Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)
Biff Wellington screened in Ottawa at The Mayfair on June 28.