Locals Hit Big-Screen
Lexington native's DIY project comes to fruition
By Patrick Reed

These three have a serious gear crisis.

In little more than two years, Kentucky's Twenty One Productions has produced several short films that have utilized the talents of many different local actors and production personnel. Twenty One's feature-length debut, The Midnight, premieres in Lex this weekend.

Filmed in and around Lexington and northern Kentucky, this sex-and-relationship comedy features a largely homegrown cast and the sort of plot and themes that should appeal to a college-age and twentysomething audience. The Midnight's early showtime isn't conducive to drawing out such a crowd, given this town's propensity to purge itself of coeds every weekend, especially when Keeneland's finished with its Spring meet. Ideally, this lowbrow, battle-between-the-sexes account would screen at its titular hour-a proper culmination of a Thursday night spent knocking down drinks downtown.

Still, The Midnight could very well gain a follow-up audience through video and DVD merchandising via Twenty One's website. Judged by a rough cut of the film, the film's budget-minded production values are never less than evident, yet director Russell Johnson, director of photography Steve Goss, and editor Justin Durban competently use the tools of that great force for democracy in moviemaking, digital video, to present the story. The acting is good-naturedly amateurish, for the most part; most of the light comedy comes off okay, but there's little subtlety in the more heartfelt romantic exchanges. With The Midnight, it's the subject matter and plot that's the drawing card for a generation versed in Friends, American Pie, Half Baked, Clerks and Chasing Amy, Office Space, Abercrombie and Fitch, and the Dave Matthews Band, among other staples of late nineties American pop culture-all of which The Midnight references to one degree or another.

The story is basic: a clean-cut young guy Lee (David Cottingham, a co-founder of Twenty One Productions) is having trouble reconciling his feelings for longtime friend Sydney (the late DeAnna Friend, for whom The Midnight is dedicated to and who will also be memorialized at Saturday's screening). Sydney is dating a serial womanizer (Bennie J. Stanley) but doesn't realize this and likewise won't face up to Lee's barely-concealed affections. Lee's clownish best friend Damon (Steve Tressler, who physically resembles local sportscaster and conservative talk radio host Dave Baker and is currently serving in the Middle East) is also having relationship trouble with his mistreated girlfriend Jenna (Mona Reffitt-Brown). Everything comes to a head one night as the foursome prepare to see a midnight screening of a hyped-up movie called American Dreamers at the local historic movie house-numerous confrontations, accusations, confessions, breakups, and so on take place before the requisite happy ending comes along.

There are several other mini-storylines, most of which further drive home the unabashedly juvenile crudeness of Johnson's profanity-laced script, which owes a far-too-excessive debt to the aforementioned work of Kevin Smith (although one scenario, which pits some fed-up moviegoers against Scott Crosbie-esque protesters outside of the local theater, is good for a laugh).

Lexington media followers will note the presence of TV, radio, and standup dude Lee Cruse as a jittery concession-stand patron, as well as former Z-103 DJ (and current Ace list scribe) Lee "Sticky" Dellapina as one of a trio of sofa-bound, cannabis-stoked imbeciles. Overall, The Midnight offers no profound ideas on the relationship front, nor is it all that funny, but there's an affable quality to the film that holds the interest (and surfaces again in the end-credit bloopers/outtakes). Furthermore, the successful production and release of this picture offers hope for all of those in central Kentucky who harbor aspirations for realizing their creative visions in an environment that's far removed from the national entertainment centers. As Twenty One's The Midnight modestly illustrates, filmmaking and distribution technologies have improved to the point where that so-called cultural-distance barrier really doesn't matter anymore-the resourceful do-it-yourself model can get it done.

The Midnight premieres at the Kentucky Theatre Saturday, April 26, at 11am.