Tony

rating:
companies:
Abbot Vision,
Chump Films and Dan
McCulloch Productions
year: 2009
runtime: 76′
country: United Kingdom
director: Gerard Johnson
cast: Peter Ferdinando, Frank Boyce,
Lorenzo Camporese, Cyrus Desir,
Lucy Flack, Ian Groombridge,
Ricky Grover, Ian Kilgannon
writer: Gerard Johnson
cinematographer: David Haggis
music: Matt Johnson and The The
reviewed from a screener provided
by Revolver Entertainment LLC
order this film from Amazon.com
or visit the official film site

It’s difficult to know quite what to think of Gerard Johnson’s debut feature Tony, a brief and loosely structured drama that follows the day-to-day activities of the fictitious suburban London serial killer.of the title. “I didn’t want to make something with much narrative, I deliberately didn’t want much plot. What I wanted to make was a character study about this guy Tony, a week in the life, nothing much happens, and that’s it,” Johnson said in an interview with Slashfilm.  I suppose Johnson succeeded, though I could have done with more on the “character study” front and less of the “nothing much happens.”

True to the writer / director’s statement, Tony is about Tony (Peter Fernandino, Bodywork) and very little else. Tony is jobless, and lives at the taxpayer’s expense in a small apartment stocked with 80s action movies and the odd dead body or two. He spends his days eating cereal with his rotting teeth, calling sex lines, and carrying plastic shopping bags carefully packed with dismembered human body parts down to the river for disposal. Along the way he meets several threats to his way of life – a disgruntled fat man in a bar, a government worker checking up on TV licenses, an unemployment office employee who promises to cut off Tony’s benefits if he doesn’t find a job.  But as the director has stated, not much really happens.

Johnson’s film presents with a distinctly unpleasant world view, a biproduct of his choice of character perspective.  Tony inhabits a seedy universe of dingy elevators and porno shops, prostitutes, drug lords, and the just plain unlovable.  From a pair of meth addicts to the owner of a tanning parlor to a fat man angry about his failing marriage,the secondary players are unpersonable at best and despicable at worst. All enjoy picking on our poor Tony, assured that he’s as easy a target as his meek appearance and nervous ticks suggest, never suspecting that he’s a closet homicidal maniac. There are only a couple of genuinely amiable person in the lot – a fellow tenant who invites Tony to dinner for his troubles and an elderly man he meets on the street – but their participation in events is minimal.  The lack of any relatable elements or redemptive value in the world of Tony is unfortunate, and likely to limit the film’s appeal.

In line with the “nothing much happens” mindset action in Tony is slim, even with so many dreadful people entering and exiting Tony’s life. The most that happens is the disappearance of a child, the resulting investigation of which Tony is briefly pestered with. The rest of the picture is taken up with Tony wandering the streets, scouting gay bars for potential victims, or sitting at home watching his action films (on VHS only, mind you). There’s no real narrative impetus to things and, as such, no narrative resolution. In the end situations are pretty well unchanged, and Tony is left to freely stalk the streets for a day or a lifetime . . .

The ad art takes advantage of the most horrific potential of the film’s premise, showing Tony standing against a white background with a bloodied hammer at his side. Truth be told, there’s precious little in the way of horror to be had, save a trio of on-screen murders that play with regrettably un-scary everyday sensibility. The throbbing music cues that accompany the killings indicates that they’re supposed to be terrifying, brutal affairs, but the ho-hum handheld photography fails to complete the illusion.  A first-person perspective of a potential victim in Tony’s closet is kept blessedly brief, its incongruous editing leaving it more annoying than frightening.

That’s not to say that Tony doesn’t achieve a level of creepiness at times, courtesy of Peter Fernandino’s nuanced performance. With a hair cut that was never in style and a mustache to match, Tony is certainly memorable, and Fernandino imbues the part with a constant, quiet menace. One notably unsettling early moment has him singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” through his rotted teeth while watching a child play ball. Fernandino’s performance is reason enough to see Tony, imperfect as the rest of the production is, and may be enough to raise appreciation of the film to a respectable cult status.  It’s certainly the best thing about the film, and the reason I rated it a full three stars.

Tony is due out on DVD from Revolver Entertainment on the 6th of April. I can’t comment on that release specifically as the screener I received was film-only. The list of supplements looks encouraging, and includes a director’s commentary from Gerard Johnson and a pair of his short films, and the going price ($19.98 or less) sounds right for a new release.  Fans are certainly encouraged to indulge.

It’s unfortunate that Tony never really goes anywhere, particularly with such a strong lead performance to help it along. Director Johnson has said that he approached the film with a mindset towards social realism, the result of which is a thriller with very little in the way of thrills. A few moments with thrilling potential play out with the same indifference as the rest of the minimalist drama, lending the picture a surprisingly dull edge. Bleak humor creeps in to spice things up occasionally, but it’s too little to noticeably change the tone of the picture. Too bland to be thrilling and too sparse to be funny, Tony is ultimately a confused genre picture that, like its protagonist, just doesn’t seem to fit in.