FUBAR: Balls to the Wall (Blu-ray)
David Lawrence, Paul Spence, Jamil Jabril, Rose Martin, Andrew Sparacino, Tracey Lawrence
US DVD: 19 Apr 2011 (General release)
Somewhere in the ‘70s, the heavy metal fan went from determined aficionado to moron. Instead of celebrating the hard rocking sounds of the genre they loved, they became comic characterizations of a life spent spoilt in too much (fantasized) sex, dollar bin drug binges, and hand sign power chords. From long hair and leather to incoherent, inebriated rants, the stereotype has stuck, leading to such iconic cultural landmarks as Beavis and Butthead and Bam Margera. Now comes FUBAR, a Canadian comedy byproduct of This Is Spinal Tap and Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass. Centering on two Great White North slackers - Terry and Dean - and their never-ending desire to live the mayhem in the music they love, they are the Bob and Doug of the braindead Iron Maiden brigade. They represent everything that’s loveable - and laughable - about this appalling anarch-atype.
Using a heavily improvised style and a complicated storyline, the first FUBAR film found the duo dealing with life, love, and a tricky bout of testicular cancer. Now, the appropriately named sequel FUBAR: Balls to the Walls picks up right where the original left off. Dean (co-creator Paul Spence) has been disease-free for five years and is celebrating his situation with an all out drunken house party with pal Terry (co-creator David Lawrence). When their buddy Troy “Tron” McRae comes back from Fort McMurray, Ontario with tales of easily available jobs and endless good times, the boys bust up their rental and head on down the highway. Upon arrival, they realize their buddy may have been blowing a bit of smoke. Still, they eventually get hired on at a local oil refinery and starting banking some serious bread. Terry even hooks up with hefty barmaid Trixie while Dean hopes to scam the jobsite out of some unearned workman’s comp.
FUBAR: Balls to the Wall is like a wonky work of science fiction. It takes place in a world many have never experienced and speaks a language larded with a cornucopia of foreign slang and expressions. Like the best speculative fiction, it’s a recognizable reality, one the audience can easily relate to and identify with. Just like the genre, however, the overall approach is to bury an message in a mélange of imaginative weirdness meant to throw the viewer off guard. Terry and Dean are not your typical heavy metal maniacs. While they love the music - and one even tries to make it his profession - they are far more immersed in the ancillary elements of beer and bewildering life choices. Even cancer becomes a temporary set-up in a situation Hellbent on getting as rocket fueled and f*cked up as possible.
Because it believes in the magic of spontaneity, FUBAR: Balls to the Wall is often episodic. Luckily, directorial mastermind Michael Dowse does a great job of keeping the material focused and fresh. The narrative moves from set-up to “stranger in a strange industrial landscape” scenario effortlessly, and once Dean and Terry are part of the Mac, their adventures play out with purpose. If conflict makes comedy fly, this film has disagreement enough for a couple dozen hilarious sequels. First our duo argue over their job. Then they argue over money. Then they argue over girls, hunting, dope, family, etc. As with any great partnership, Terry is the Yin to Dean’s deathwish Yang. They function well together because neither one has a full deck of playing cards to deal from. During the second act skirmish that separates them, the movie realizes the void the fills it with some fine supplemental silliness.
In fact, a lot of FUBAR: Balls to the Walls success comes from the use of ancillary characters. Tron is one of the most intriguing of the bunch, a behemoth bear of a man who secretly loves rap and hip-hop but who blares country whenever he’s around the prejudiced pipeline crew. He’s a braggart and a blowhard but he does eventually do the right thing by Terry and Dean - all of which makes his post-layoff desperation all the more meaningful. Similarly, Trixie is given an initial arc which suggests she is nothing but a money grubbing gold digger who sees Terry as a clueless mark to con. But then, over the Christmas holidays, she does things that both confirm and then conflict with this preconception. In fact, that’s a good way to explain FUBAR to the non-believer: it’s a movie about two Canadian idiots that both corroborates and clashes with your outlook on what to expect from the Blu-ray cover art.
Oddly enough, it still may not be brazen enough for some. Many will look at the over the top antics of someone like Margera and wonder why Terry and Dean, flush with cash, aren’t concocting some similar single IQ stunts. Going to a strip club is one thing. But this pair simply begs for something outrageous and outlandish. Also, the return of a familiar disease in Act Three seems kind of pat, as if Spence, Lawrence, and Dowse didn’t know where to go and simply reverted back to the beginning. There is a lot of unexplored potential here, from Dean’s deadbeat Dad syndrome to the whole bad band subplot. The disc includes a few deleted scenes which add some to the story, but what we really want is the dimension that something carefully scripted could bring. While brilliant at the off-the-cuff stuff, FUBAR suffers a little from its ad-libbed style.
Still, this is a clever, complicated comedy which plays like a performance from a far off distant galaxy. While staying within the parameters of the mock-doc ideal which begat the first film, FUBAR: Balls to the Wall takes the concept and runs with it, letting its foul mouth and equally unhealthy beliefs stain an entire nation. If America has to bear the brunt of every YouTube wannabe working their gonads into a wad to be just like their Steve-O’ed idol, then Canada has to take responsibility for Terry and Dean. The translation of the title doesn’t just refer to these loveable lunkheads. It refers to the state of arrested adolescence in general, especially the kind centered around leather and loud music.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.