First Date, 2021.
Directed by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp.
Starring Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen, Nicole Berry, Samuel Ademola, Jake Howard and Brandon Kraus.
After being conned into buying an old car, Mike is pursued by criminals trying to retrieve what is hidden inside the vehicle as he tries to make it to his date with a girl he likes.
A first date can be a real challenge, particularly for a shy teen. That’s the main takeaway from the beginning of Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp’s first full length feature. When the odds are already stacked against you, the last thing you need is added complications – particularly when those complications include psychotic criminals, amorous pensioners and crooked, sadistic members of the police force. Spinning a story as strange and hectic as the events encountered by Paul Hackett in After Hours, First Date laments the death of the midnight movie, but makes a strong case for its rebirth.
Mike is just a boy who likes a girl. After summoning the courage to ask Kelsey out – though never actually managing to do so himself – he sets off a chain of events that will see him beaten up, shot at, and walked all over by a whole host of different characters, before he even gets close to the date he promised. Crosby and Knapp skilfully weave together a deceptively simple story, one which merely serves to connect the fascinating characters that populate the world of the film. Each of these creations, and the scenarios they force onto Mike, are larger than life and caricatured, certainly, but in a comical way that happily outlines the absurdity of it all. And yet through the characters’ idiosyncrasies, the film never feels wholly unreal; familiar tropes are dispelled by a fine supporting cast who keep you guessing.
Watching Mike bounce between each development in his spiralling world is highly enjoyable, due in large part to the balanced tone which is so well maintained. As Mike drives his hunk of junk Chrysler down dark roads, it’s not hard to imagine the menacing sounds of Centurion’s Bullwinkle Pt. II creeping in, or even a radio presenter announcing the titles from his Super Sounds of the 70’s themed show. The whole thing feels distinctly like it could be an adaption of an Elmore Leonard work, though actually with its attention to romantic detail, it would be closer to Soderbergh than Tarantino in its execution. Crosby and Knapp seem totally aware of their influences, and know exactly what kind of film they want to make. The result is enticing, often funny, and a very easy watch, especially late at night.
These kinds of crime-pulp B movies have their drawbacks, and anyone looking for something deep might not find anything below the surface here. The twists, thrills and laughs don’t last longer than the end credits, and there isn’t anything particularly affecting or surprising in Mike’s character arc. The editing tends to feel jumpy and messy rather than smooth, and each of the action sequences go on a little bit too long.
Then again, First Date is an important entry into a certain genre, following in the footsteps of recent films like The Death of Dick Long and Bad Times at the El Royale. These old fashioned, dark and grimy stories, supported and updated by a modern sense of humour, recall a type of film that used to be made in the 70’s – not quite exploitation and not quite violent arthouse, but somewhere between the two. Movies that were made for movie lovers. There aren’t enough films like First Date to even categorise the genre properly, but with what is supplied here, Crosby and Knapp make a strong case that there should be more.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★