The director's statement that accompanies Threat Level Midnight, the filmmaking debut of Pennsylvania-based writer-director-star Michael Scott, boasts of a long production process involving “three years of writing, one year of shooting, four years of reshooting, and two years of editing.” It would be nice to report all that effort translated into greatness. Instead it translates into, well, what looks like a lot of effort.
Scott may have worked long and hard on Threat Level Midnight, but that doesn’t make this shoestring-budgeted would-be thriller featuring a retired superspy, a Bond-inspired villain, a terrorist threat to a sporting event, and an out-of-nowhere musical sequence any easier to follow — or to explain. Still, by film’s end, viewers will likely find themselves swept along by the absurdity anyway.
Scott stars as Agent Michael Scarn, who, as the film opens, has sunk into a depressive funk. He’s tended to by his unflaggingly intense live-in butler Samuel (D.K. Schrute), Threat Level Midnight’s most puzzling character. A late-film reveal raises more questions than answers even if it explains the strange vocal cadence Schrute brings to his performance. Scarn finds himself drawn back into the spy game when the president (Darryl Philbin) alerts him to a hostage situation/bomb threat at the upcoming NHL All-Star Game. The perpetrator: Scarn’s old foe — and his wife’s murderer — Goldenface (James Halpert, the most appealing member of a seemingly all-amateur cast).
To infiltrate the game, Scarn will have to become an ace hockey player, a feat accomplished via a training montage set to Billy Joel’s “Running on Ice.” (That’s one of two Joel songs on the film’s soundtrack. When asked about music clearances in the postscreening Q&A, Scott replied with noncommittal mumbling.)
Let’s accentuate the positive: Jan Levinson gets a chance to showcase a lovely (and flexible) singing voice as the doomed singer Jasmine Windsong, and there’s no missing Scott’s enthusiasm for movies since he borrows from so many of them (including a long sequence inspired by The Karate Kid). And, in spite of its obvious shortcomings, Threat Level Midnight remains fun from start to finish. The screening we attended left the audience gasping with laughter even before a bizarre climax involving an exploding hockey puck bouncing off a satellite. Scott seemingly didn’t realize he was working on a comedy all those years. If he did, he’s some kind of genius. If he didn’t, maybe, in some strange way, he still is. B-
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