Director: Austin Vesely
Writer: Austin Vesely
Producer: Brandon Riley, Kevin McGrail
Stars: Zazie Beetz, Chance Bennett, Rae Gray, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Katherine Cunningham, Will Brill, Y’lan Noel, Hannibal Buress, Chris Parnell, Paul Scheer
A string of pizza delivery murders believed to be the work of a werewolf grips a small town where humans live alongside ghosts.
A popular line of thought in criticism says that a film should be weighed according to how well it works as the movie it wants to be, as opposed to the movie a critic thinks it should be. It’s impossible to apply this thinking to “Slice” however, because given its murky mixture of conflicting tones, there’s no way to precisely parse out what its intentions even are.
Does the horror-comedy mean to be laugh out loud hilarious? Let’s hope not, because it isn’t. Is “Slice” supposed to be subtly snarky instead, with a casual attitude occasionally dripping sandpaper sarcasm and understated wit? That’s another swing and a miss. The story, horror, and humor are bone dry, and there’s nothing funny about this particular bone either.
Feast on the following one-sentence summary of “Slice’s” setup. “A string of pizza delivery murders believed to be the work of a werewolf grips a small town where humans live alongside ghosts.” Sounds like a can’t-miss elevator pitch for an original feature capable of delivering good gags with quirky appeal.
Packed with heaps of throwaway characters and oddly abandoned subplots, “Slice’s” episodic story plays out in film form like stream of consciousness ramblings randomly ripped from a stoner’s notebook. Picture someone ordering a pepperoni pie while getting high and brainstorming, “what if someone delivered this pizza to a town where humans and ghosts lived together? And what if one of the deliverymen was a mysterious motorcyclist who is really a werewolf played by Chance the Rapper? How about we add a drug dealer, an intrepid reporter, detectives with a nondescript partnership, a witch coven conspiracy, a shifty mayor, and a portal to Hell too?”
This could be a kooky kitchen sink for wild weirdness, clever creativity, or both depending on how deeply the script decides to bite. But “Slice” flushes away its fun factor by funneling vignettes through a disjointed sense of disinterested humor. Listening to empty jokes clunk on the floor while performances appear on the verge of spontaneous yawns, one realizes no sober mind ever reworked the jumbled “that sounds cool!” ideas into a cohesive plotline.
“Slice” regularly fights against its dull DNA to inject life into largely limp proceedings. Almost certainly sensing the sustained stretch of scenes centered on chatty conversations of dim dialogue, a random foot chase and near-miss death by falling car comes as the lone action sequence until an “everything in the blender” finale. Character color comes predominantly from wardrobe and makeup rather than any energized embodiment of a charming personality.
“Slice” needs spirit to squeeze out and gleefully indulge in its inherent silliness. Its muted pulse doesn’t cooperate. When a soundtrack scored with jazzy finger-flicks becomes the sole source of snappiness, a movie has a real issue with rhythm.
Ongoing goofs like one about a deliveryman with a “much older” girlfriend don’t have the legs to deserve assignment as running gags. Momentary visuals such as Parnell painting the portrait of a three-breasted woman in his mayor’s office also don’t earn enough of a chuckle to validate the real estate they’re given.
Imagining what the limited comedic substance must have looked like on paper, it’s difficult to guess what inspired the likes of Paul Scheer, Chris Parnell, and Hannibal Buress to shrug their shoulders through forgettable parts in a forgettable film. In particular, I’m unconvinced Hannibal Buress was formally cast to begin with. It seems more like Buress happened to stroll by the set for a minute, which is also how long his single scene lasts, and someone blackmailed him into chewing off a couple of quick lines before he went wherever he was really going. Joe Keery of “Stranger Things” similarly has a bit role so irrelevant, I genuinely forgot he was in “Slice” until reading the reminder in my notes.
Whatever attracted notable names to the project, boutique distribution darling A24 evidently fell under the same unfortunate spell. Like writer/director Austin Vesely did with his film, A24 seemingly realized it was too much effort to reinforce the foundation and modestly remodel the interior, opting instead to go to market with what little they had in the can. A24 thus made the uncharacteristic move of abandoning major marketing spend and a theatrical rollout, dumping their dud to VOD. That’s equivalent to an admission of, “we don’t have overwhelming faith in this film.” And if the folks who produced it don’t, why should you?
You may not feel like “Slice” wasted your time, although you won’t consider it well spent either. It’s a blah blob of aimlessly unfunny material struggling to seem craftier than it is, featuring likable actors playing poorly defined people. Be ready to remember it only as “that weird pizza-themed slasher with Chance the Rapper.” I doubt anyone, its cast included, will regard “Slice” any higher than that.
Review Score: 35