Dangerous Men (2005/2015)

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Starring Melody Wiggins, Kelay Miller, Bryan Jenkins

Directed by John S. Rad


Upon hearing that Iranian filmmaker John S. Rad (born Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad) took 26 years to complete his debut revenge thriller Dangerous Men, audiences who finally manage to sit down and take in the director’s decade-spanning labor of love are reasonable to expect something particularly special. If we’re being frank, “special” is quite a significant understatement that only begins to scratch the surface of Rad’s one and only film completed before his death in 2007. Though the film saw a very limited release in 2005 on the West Coast to modest, but enthusiastic audiences, this month will mark its official revival within the scope of American cinema, thanks to the passionate forces at Drafthouse Films and the generous help of Rad’s daughter, Samira. Now the question remains: Is America ready for what is being dubbed as the “The Holy Grail of Holy Fucking Shit” after all this time?

If we’re putting it all on the table, Dangerous Men does work, but only because it is so inherently bizarre. The film’s unabashedly nonsensical plot is the kind that makes writing about it from a critical standpoint damn near impossible. The film begins primarily with an introduction to Daniel (Miller) and his fiancée, Mina (Wiggins), who is inexplicably credited as “Mira” in official production credits — a telling error that exemplifies the unapologetically haphazard tenet that likely guided Rad on his rocky production journey. When they are attacked on the beach by a couple of deviant bikers, Daniel kills one of the assailants but meets an untimely end at the hands of the other as a horrified Mina looks on. Although narrowly avoiding what will be the first of many attempted sexual assaults, Mina is ignited with a taste for calculated vengeance that quite literally kicks in as soon as Daniel’s murderer attempts to stroll angrily off of the beach. And we do mean literally, as her character transformation seems to take place between frames.

In a matter of mere seconds, Mina transforms from an inconsolable woman into unaffected femme fatale as she runs after Daniel’s murderer and begins coyly chatting him up, thanking him for freeing her from the dull life she would have had with her vanilla fiancé. Mina’s intent is ultimately to lull this killer into a false sense of security so that she may enact her revenge, but you would never be able to tell solely by watching the clunky exchange on its own (we only find this out in the following scene). In this sequence, her character turn is so perplexingly unnatural, but still played so decisively straight, that you want to rewind and have another watch just to be sure you didn’t imagine it all. With such an incomprehensible tonal shift, Rad showcases his clear distaste for subtlety and rationality that will guide every minute thereafter.

From the moment when Mina stabs the biker in a hotel room with a knife she has hidden between her buttocks (and yes, it is as hilarious as it sounds), Dangerous Men begins enacting its own agenda of hypnotic incoherence that sets out to warp the minds of anyone who dares to sit through the entirety of its 80-minute runtime. It’s a non-stop barrage of amateur-hour insanity that is so curiously genuine in its execution, it is elevated quite quickly to an unforgettable movie-watching experience all on its own. Truth be told, it is often difficult to follow much of Dangerous Men as its plot continues to “develop,” so to speak; we find Mina disguising herself as a prostitute to continue killing bad men, a detective hell-bent on ridding the streets of criminal trash, a back-alley crime boss named Black Pepper (Jenkins) who is as threatening as a late ’80s WCW champion, and a host of other inexplicable one-off characters who come and go with no regard for cohesion.

Amidst the crop of local actors on display, we find many that steal the spotlight with shockingly soulless delivery and others that outright devour the scenery with an enthusiastic conviction. It all makes you feel as if you’re riding the wave of after-effects from a drug you never knew you took, or that you are witnessing a heightened level of performance art that maybe you just don’t quite “get” yet. Rad continues to slap cinematic sense in the face with each ridiculous turn in his script, but you never once doubt his commitment to his vision; it’s quite clear that he genuinely loves these characters and the world he has created.

From a technical standpoint, Dangerous Men is the kind of movie that is so shoddily filmed, edited, and executed, it becomes a spectacle in and of itself. The use of the ever-present ’80s synth score that feels plucked from the public domain archives adds to the droning, mesmerizing nature of the film, even when it is downright disparate in the middle of a murder scene or as we watch a naked British man prance away into the desert. Needless to say, an education in film studies is certainly not required to see that Rad was never a particularly skilled hand behind the camera or in the editing room. However, there is a peculiarly engrossing element in his starkly unrefined, but good-natured persistence.  Whatever you think of the ultimate end result as a cinematic product — and again, it is ultimately difficult to judge Dangerous Men via the constraints of such a limiting artform — he unapologetically owns his singular vision as the be-all and end-all force behind the camera, a sentiment that is made clear from the film’s audacious opening credits that see his name plastered under every technical role. It is clear that Rad is quite proud of himself — critics (and sense) be damned — and after 26 years of sitting with all of this, why shouldn’t he be?

If Dangerous Men proves one thing, it is that a strong predilection for cinema alone will not make you a great filmmaker any more than appreciating lions and tigers will make you a zoologist. If it proves two things, however, the second is that an unshakable vision, if clung to for dear life, can sometimes inadvertently result in something so unique that its impossible not to marvel at its sheer existence. Dangerous Men is one of these products, resulting of a blazing passion that never once flickered. Admittedly, one must be truly prepared for this kind of absorbing experience, or Rad’s film will indeed be mind-numbingly intolerable; its greatest flaw lies in its polarizing singularity that one must encounter at just the right moment in time in order to be appreciated. It is indeed a very large and very unrepentant steaming pile of something; what I considered that particular something to be after first viewing the film and what I consider it to be now are drastically different. Such is the curious effect of Rad’s film: It will likely sit with you for days, continuing to confound you with its moving parts long after the bewildering final frames flick you one last time in the brain stem on the way out. What you ultimately make of it will be ever-evolving, but there’s no denying that Rad’s bizarre vision has finally been realized. Sometimes, this kind of experience is just what moviegoers need.

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