My Bad Dad

Ryan Scott

An independent film fails to even raise a titter as it blunders from one hackneyed idea to the next.

My Bad Dad

Director: Mack Polhemus
Cast: Anna Boehike-Polhemus, Darren Kelly, Emma Polhemus, Joe Polhemus, Josiah Polhemus, Mary Polhemus, Arnold Vezzani, Elizabeth Vezzani
Distributor: Reel Indies
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: Breakthrough
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2007-09-25

Joe Barring (Joe Polhemus) is bad. He drinks; he has tattoos; he rides a motorbike. He even wears a bandana. In case there was any doubt as to how bad Joe is, the opening scene should put to rest any speculation. While cleaning the already immaculate toilets of a karate gym, Joe takes a swig of beer and belches, thus disrupting the karate class. The karate instructor isn’t pleased and fires Joe on the spot.

Joe is not the sort of badass who takes this lying down. He wants his severance pay. When this isn’t forthcoming, he takes it from the conveniently open cash box. The instructor is not the sort of boss who tolerates such insubordination. Some of his goons appear from wherever he hides them until he needs to deal with recalcitrant employees. One by one they fall to Joe’s right hook, thus proving that booze and a sense of righteousness will prevail over years of martial arts training. It’s a lesson not lost on the young boys attending the class.

Joe rides off victoriously through the opening credits. On the way, he terrorizes a couple of families, two old ladies, and a nun. When the father of one family approaches Joe about frightening his daughter, this roguish hero tries to make amends by offering all of them beer. ‘That Joe,’ I supposed we should say.

There comes a time in film, if not in life, when all wastrels must learn a few life lessons and set themselves on the straight and narrow. Joe cannot escape his cinematic destiny. When his ex girl friend dies, Joe is granted custody of her three young children Emma, Mary, and Josiah played by Emma Polhemus , Mary Polhemus, and Josiah Polhemus, respectively. This should give some hint as to what is wrong with this movie.

Of course, good films have been made with non actors. Larry Clark was able to capture the aimlessness and despair of a generation by using largely at the time unknown and untrained actors in Kids. It could be argued that their lacking of professional tutelage lent the film its essential rawness. Milos Forman defined the irreverent charm of a nation and a period when he cast local townspeople in his Czech New Wave classic The Fireman’s Ball (Hoří, má panenko in Czech). In comparison, My Bad Dad seems like a skit for America’s Funniest Home Movies. The performances are leaden, the dialogue a vehicle for glib home truths, and the flow too often interrupted for the kids to deliver some cutesy line.

Perhaps Mack Polhemus needs to take some inspiration from home movies, because despite the use of seemingly ordinary people, this film lacks realism. Okay, the relationship between the screen and the world it represents is a complex one. However, not once during this film did I feel that Polhemus represented or even knew about the world that I know. The bar Joe frequents resembles what my high school teachers imagined a bar to look like. People in leather. Beer flowing. People passing out. You’re lucky if you frequent a bar so colourful.

Polhemus’ portrayal of a custody case is so simplistic it makes Disney Movies deep by comparison. He is under the misapprehension that Barring’s guardianship could be resolved so easily. Firstly, Joe doesn’t want the children and expresses doubt that they are his. Clearly DNA tests have not reached the sleepy town Joe occasionally terrorises on his bike. When Joe rejects fatherhood, the children can instantly be adopted by a respectable middle-class couple (Anna Boehike-Polhemus and Darren Kelly); like they are items Joe ordered and returned to the store. This couple have the dough, so seemingly by-pass the otherwise lengthy process endured by other people who want to adopt.

The seeds of conflict are now in place. The well meaning but strict and cold parenting techniques of the adoptive parents versus Joe’s imperfect but good natured attempts. You do not need to sit through 70 minutes of this to know who wins. The kids repeat their desire to return to Joe every few scenes. Neither toys nor a radical Mexican nanny can make their new life more bearable.

As we’ve seen, Joe is a man of action and takes matters into his own hands. He kidnaps the children while they are picnicking. The middle class couple also decides that conventional means of returning the children are no warranted. They enlist the help of a martial arts school to get the girls back. It happens to be the same school Joe was fired from, so he has no trouble flooring them with a couple of punches. However, he does submit to the police when arrested.

This leads to that staple of modern cinema, a court case. Whereas most big budget dramas sacrifice accurate legal procedure for drama, Polhemus is content without either. The prosecution reads out the litany of Joe’s sins established at the beginning of the film. Joe attempts to explain himself as he seems to be in some state where legal representation is apparently denied to defendants. Thankfully, he has the kids. They arrive just in time for the eldest to approach the bench and plead her case.

Shouldn’t we admire Polhemus for his independent spirit? Shouldn’t we applaud the fact that he went out and made a film apparently true to his own vision? Not when the final product is a badly acted and poorly produced facsimile of the sort of corny stories the large studios pump out. In fact I’m not entirely sure why this film wasn’t produced by a large studio. It might have provided Polhemus with the stars and the production facilities to take our minds off such a preposterous story and two dimensional characters. Though I doubt it.

The director’s introduction and footage of the premier included in the extras do not offer any compelling reasons to change this opinion.






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