Directed by Austin Vesely.
Starring Zazie Beetz, Chance the Rapper, Hannibal Buress, Joe Keery, Chris Parnell, Katherine Cunningham, Paul Scheer, Austin Vesely, Rae Gray, and Kelli Simpkins.
When a pizza delivery driver is murdered on the job, the city searches for someone to blame: ghosts? drug dealers? a disgraced werewolf?
Austin Vesely’s Slice is a saucily marketed “Everything” pie that scatters listed toppings over its nearly melted bed of genre cheese a bit sparsely. Werewolves, witches, ghosts, and interdimensional underworld rifts are in short(ish) order. It’s a menu item that sounds too good to be true, and it is – to a degree. If you promise the moon and still deliver half, I mean, that’s still half a gigantic orbiting space rock. A24 sold Slice as a midnight amalgamation of subgenre madness dripping with greasy flavor, and while Vesely’s story is smaller-scale than that, it’s still a satisfying plate of mashup horror mystery. Did I crave more special sauce? You bet. Although that doesn’t automatically mean the foundation sags or crumbles.
Chance the Rapper stars as Dax Lycander, a back-in-town werewolf who was once chased out of Kingfisher after being pinned for the Yummy Yummy Chinese Murders. Now a new restaurant chain is being stalked by killers – Perfect Pizza Base. Owner Jack (Paul Scheer) tries desperately to stay open, but his delivery runners keep getting their throats slit. One of those DOA pizza boys is the boyfriend of Astrid (Zazie Beetz), who starts investing the same disturbing clues as journalist Sadie (Rae Gray). Can Dax, Astrid, and Sadie solve their murder conundrum before Perfect Pizza Base runs out of employees?
Not to mention there’s a coven of property-obsessed witches, Mayor Tracey’s (Chris Parnell) “beautification” objective, Detective Marsh’s (Tim Decker) werewolf prejudice – so on and so forth with the whole “kitchen sink” schtick.
Immediately, Slice sets an ambitious bar it never has a chance of hitting. Overlayed public access narration wastes no time introducing every supernatural influence that “peacefully” haunts Kingfisher, while also priming very on-the-nose gentrification commentary. A little too on-the-nose. Where Blindspotting and Sorry To Bother You approach colonization and displacement with a haymaker’s punch, Slice overdresses its meat-and-potatoes horror extravagance with overpowering generics. No subtlety. No nuance. The strongest flavors are sometimes the least complex, and too much can make your mouth pucker. Such is the case with “Ghost Towns” that are created to house 40K unwanted spirits when Halcyon Day Asylum is demolished for a new hoity-toity strip mall (you see the “Ghosts” are the impoverished masses, and they’re forced – oh, you get it).
The world Vesely builds is rich outside surface-value protest. Another 15-20 minutes spent fleshing out Slice’s multiple horror influences would have been a valuable additional step. Cinematography (Brandon Riley), Costume Design (Megan Spatz), and Score (Nathan Matthew David/Ludwig Göransson) conjure a pop-vibrant universe deserving of slasher-soft intrigue. From swaggy Perfect Pizza Base delivery track jackets to 80s influenced color saturation; smooth and slick camera movements to bulgy eyes that drip directly into the film’s opening cartoon credits roll. It’s not Kingfisher, USA that disappoints – far from it. What occurs between city limits leaves appetites hungry thanks to a finale that unnecessarily rushes to meet an unspoken 90-minutes-or-less deadline.
“Wait, didn’t you say you liked this movie?” I’M GETTING THERE, INTERNET.
As a Horror Lite punk-noir thriller – that’s what Slice is, not some killtacular B-Movie slasher – I’d safely use the word “fun.” Pizza bros speeding around with piping hot ‘za, Big Cheese’s delivery boy drug racket, Jack’s constant mismanagement of employees and love for Perfect Pizza Base – Vesely’s sandbox has plenty of toys. It’s like a Joseph Kahn flick blazed up with Stranger Things and hazily dreamed this steamy brainmeld. Vesely is at his best when not shackled to cliched good cop/bumbling cop arcs or witchy move-along schemes. The more Dax mysteriously moped-zooms around crime scenes, the more Jack expresses unwavering commitment to his Perfect Pizza Base team, the more Joe (Lakin Valdez) explicitly warns everyone *exactly* what evil threatens Kingfisher (without a response), the better Slice is. Especially when Zazie Beetz is on-screen shoving everyone and their momma into place.
You’d think Chance The Rapper’s debut to be the film’s main attraction, but his wolfy Chinese food enthusiast is rather underutilized. Time is split between Chance, Beetz, Chris Parnell’s crooked government employee, hippie-dipper protestors trying to bulldoze the corporate monstrosity built atop sacred burial grounds – like The Predator, there are many varied subplots. Also like The Predator, Slice falters when mixing them all together. Even at 82 minutes, Vesely climaxes without having a full grasp of how to serviceably hand-deliver the deserving finale Slice‘s many influences suggest. This mouth-watering tease of a portal to Hell finally erupts, but gatekeeping battles are over almost as quickly as they start. Given Joe Keery’s late-to-work photographer and Hannibal Buress’ two-liner cameo, one has to wonder if there’s more to Slice left on a chopping room floor somewhere – it’d explain a lot.
Slice’s cinematic world-building is hot, fresh, and ready for consumption, even if the center is still a bit raw. Chance’s Lycan outbursts may be brief (hammy makeup design, too), but Chance the regular-unturned Dax bemuses lawmen handily. No one may believe Rae Gray’s investigative dynamo, but she’s forceful and forthcoming in her scenes. Zazie Beetz commands coolness akin to Domino’s Deadpool 2 artic awesomeness, Paul Scheer delights as per usual, and Austin Vesely creates a genre playground I’d monkey-bar all over given another opportunity. The base-value promise of werewolves, witches, and ghosts is dutifully fulfilled, albeit more “just enough” than “above and beyond.” Truly the “hometown parlor” of outrageous genre cinema – just shy of NYC’s definitive golden pizza standard.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).