Three film nerds get charged five bucks for bringing back their videos 55 minutes late -- now that is grounds for assassination.
The jittery clerk is just trying to follow "store policy," but when a loose-cannon film studies fanatic pulls a revolver on him, some major Tarantino/Craven plot points ensue, and you don't know until the final moment just who will die and how.
In "Tomorrow By Midnight," Rolfe Kanefsky does it again. The man who invented the self-referential horror flick with "There's Nothing Out There" -- an idea copied by Kevin Williamson's screenplay for "Scream" several years later -- tells this gripping funny story in real screen time, which is hard to do, and which, now that I think about it, is so amazing that this might be the first drive-in movie in history that perfectly observes Aristotle's unities of time, place and action. Who'd a thunk it?
Alexis Arquette plays the seething video-store clerk who's been abused by customers and rejected by women to the point of latent Travis Bickledom. All it takes to bring it out is a rowdy group of geek boys and a sassy blonde tag-along girlfriend who come into the store seven minutes before closing time and proceed to tell him how to do his job.
The suburban slackers end up taking over the video store while Arquette whimpers like a puppy into the parking lot pay phone, trying to get the El Lay Pee Dee to show up for what he calls a "video store hijacking." But soon we have a Trivial Pursuit Nerdoff with firearms, fisticuffs and a quickie in the adults-only section involving Patty Hearst store employee Tori, the video vixen, and her man of the moment Cosmo, who is sweating out the fact that, as the "black friend," he's destined to be the first to die.
I don't wanna give away the plot because the twists and complications are pretty well done, but suffice to say that writer/director Kanefsky introduces so many obscure movie references and variations on exploitation plots that the dialogue crackles with film-buff nirvana.
Kanefsky has come a long way since 1990, when he made "There's Nothing Out There," and one thing he has now is real actors, including Carol Kane in a small role as the hostage negotiator.
The cast is outstanding, and Kanefsky uses humor in even the tensest moments without breaking the dramatic arc. (It helps when you have obnoxiously sarcastic children of yuppies as your main characters.)
This one is a keeper, one of the best of the year.
Five dead bodies. Two breasts. Bullet to the leg. Stickup.
Three fistfights. Bullet to the temple. Exploding head.
Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Matt Champagne, as the TV news reporter who says "Where do movies end and where does real life begin? Are we one plot?"; Alexis Arquette, as the power-tripping video clerk reduced to jelly who grows increasingly crazed as the night wears on, for saying "Who's God now?"; Jennifer Lambert, as the aspiring porn star with green fingernails who says "My body was definitely invaded";
Scott Rinker, as the manic walking encyclopedia of film who says "It's just the bullet talking, man"; Tamara Craig Thomas, as the sensible "final girl" hooked to a maniac boyfriend who says "We are SO through!"; Karim Prince as the black friend who says "The brother always gets killed first"; Mark Collver, as the trigger-happy cop who says "Gunplay has occurred"; William Vogt, as the off-kilter film nerd with a firearm who says "We have to kill him before he kills us"; and Rolfe Kanefsky, the writer/director, for doing things the drive-in way.
Four stars. Joe Bob says check it out twice.
"Tomorrow By Midnight" Web site: tomorrowbymidnight.com.
(To reach Joe Bob, go to joebob-briggs.com or email him at JoeBob@upi.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas, 75221.)