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Although filmmakers have been crafting big-screen, live-action adaptations of cartoons for some time, to greater or lesser (mostly lesser) effect, very few have been able to actually approximate the sheer insanity of said cartoons. In most cases, it’s enough to simply cast real actors that kind of look like their cartoon counterparts and put them into settings that kind of approximate their respective animated backgrounds. For the most part, however, the number of live-action films that have the chaotic energy and feel of classic Merrie Melodies or Looney Tunes cartoons are pretty few and far between.

The reason for this, of course, should be pretty simple: by their very nature, animated works can get away with about 1000% more things than live-action productions can. As an example, think back to that hoariest of all animated clichés, the mid-air “run and fall.” It’s a pretty simple task to make a cartoon Bugs Bunny run on thin air, stop, ponder, pull a sign from some hidden orifice and then plummet to relative safety at the bottom of a canyon: to paraphrase some old baseball movie, “If you draw it, it will happen.” Try this same gag in a live-action format, however, and it’s automatically a whole different ballgame: as a rule, flesh-and-blood actors and animatronics are much more beholden to the law of gravity than their animated counterparts. Toss a real actor over a cliff and see how long they tread open air before crashing to terra firma: I’m guessing it won’t be a pretty sight.

All this is by way of saying that live-action features that actually have the zany, unpredictable feel of cartoons are exceptionally rare beasts, scattered unicorns in a field full of shaggy ponies. Of these rare beasts, one of the very best, brightest and most outrageous would have to be Kit Ryan’s no-holds-barred Botched (2007). Nominally about a botched heist, Ryan’s amazing little film manages to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the mix, coming up with a film that’s howlingly funny, unbelievably violent, ludicrously hyper-kinetic and endlessly surprising. It’s a movie that plays on audience expectations before systematically shattering them, all the way to a great twist ending that feels less tacked on than absolutely necessary. I fell in love with Botched the very first time that I saw it: if you’re an adventurous movie fan, I’m willing to wager that you probably will, too.

The movie kicks off with a thrilling diamond heist, led by the perpetually unlucky Ritchie (Stephen Dorff). As the title tips us off, Ritchie ends up botching the heist something fierce, losing his accomplices and the stolen ice in the process. Returning to his no-nonsense boss, the stony-faced Mr. Groznyi (Sean Pertwee), Ritchie gets a chance to make everything right, via yet another heist. This time, Ritchie must travel to Russia, where he teams up with the bumbling brother duo of Peter (Jamie Foreman) and Yuri (Russell Smith): the three men are charged with infiltrating a high-rise office building and stealing a special jeweled crucifix from the penthouse suite. As luck would have it, Peter is a complete and total psychopath and ends up blowing someone away, leading the trio to be locked-down on the top floor, along with a handful of hostages.

The hostages are a decidedly odd bunch, including a group of conservatively dressed, ultra-religious women, led by Sonya (Bronagh Gallagher), a dim-witted Russian soldier by the name of Boris Bogdanovich (Geoff Bell) and the uber-nerdy Dmitry (Hugh O’Conor). During a bit of organized chaos, Sonya pulls a gun and flips the script, taking Ritchie, Peter, Yuri, Boris and the others hostage, all in preparation for a big sacrifice to “the Almighty.” Did I mention there’s a mysterious, blood-thirsty barbarian (Edward Baker-Duly) roaming the halls of the office building wielding an enormous ax and an equally massive, bug-eyed, grin? Yeah, well, he’s there’s and he’s a real hoot, let me tell ya.

With all of these decidedly strange forces massed against him, Ritchie must stay the course and complete his assignment, lest he wind up in Groznyi’s crossfires when/if he should survive his trials. There’s more to the mysterious office building than meets the eye, however, and Mr. Groznyi might be more intertwined with Sonya and the barbarian than it first seems. If he’s not careful, Ritchie may just end up on the business-end of a huge ax, just one more victim of the working-class malaise.

At first blush, there probably doesn’t seem like a lot of parallel between Botched and something like a Wylie Coyote short. Digging a bit deeper, however, they don’t look so radically different: both are kinetic, hyper-self aware and ultra-violent little jewels that barrel ahead on their own feverish logic and display a blatant disregard for such things as basic anatomy and physics. There’s one point in the film where Baker-Duly’s gleeful berserker gets blown up and stands there, smoking and covered in soot, that should be readily familiar to anyone who grew up on old Daffy Duck cartoons: all he’s missing is an orange bill spinning around his dazed face.

So much of the film is pitched at a cartoonish pace that Botched often has the feel of a rollercoaster ride where we’ve begun just as the car is accelerating down its first huge drop. With little exposition, the film throws viewers into the deep end and then keeps shifting gears into each fresh absurdity: the heist aspect of the film turns into a hostage comedy which suddenly ratchets up into a strange occult shocker before leveling off into something that could best be described as a “light-hearted serial killer bloodbath.”

Throughout everything, however, the film manages to never lose either its inherent good nature or its sense of humor. Since the entire film plays out like a live-action cartoon, the over-the-top bloodshed takes on an altogether different…daresay I say “wholesome” feel: bodies are cleaved in two, heads roll, more fake blood is shed than a Gwar concert and yet the film never manages to seem mean-spirited or oppressive.

Part of the credit for this goes to the genuinely funny tone that’s maintained throughout Botched’s quick running time. Chalk this up to a superbly sharp script, credited to Raymond Friel, Eamon Friel and Derek Boyle: three writers would normally spell the kiss of death for a script but they obviously functioned like a well-oiled machine. The humor in the film is a great blend of witty dialogue and absurd, outrageous situations/sight gags that make for a heady mixture: the comedy is often pretty rapid-fire and there’s almost always something to laugh at, whether it’s Boris explaining how a filing cabinet can be deadlier than a tank “in the right hands,” Dimitry cautiously determining just what “saved” means before he volunteers (it’s not what he hoped) or the unforgettable scene where Sonya realizes that her brother is getting up to some unsavory business with the bodies. Unlike many horror-comedies, both sides of the coin are duly served: Botched is laugh-out-loud funny and just as horrifying as any “serious” fright film out there.

This would all be for nought without a killer cast, however, and there are some absolutely priceless performances here courtesy of Stephen Dorff, Jamie Foreman, Bronagh Gallagher and Geoff Bell. Dorff is perfect as the exasperated thief who just wants something, anything, to go right in this shitty nightmare that he calls a life, while Foreman and Bell bring just the right amount of sweetness with their psychopathy: neither guy are the kind of person you’d want in your home but either one would (probably) be a real blast in a dive bar. Top marks must go to Gallagher and Baker-Duly as the gonzo, batshit crazy dastardly duo: they’re both amazing comic actors with impeccable timing and every minute they’re on-screen is a real delight. Truth be told, the villains in Botched are so fascinating that you really end up wanting to spend more time with them then you do: Dorff is no slouch, mind you, but Sonya and the barbarian are something else entirely!

There’s so much to love about Botched that I’m tempted to call the film one of my all-time favorites, despite the fact that it’s not even ten years old. Lightning-paced, stocked with fascinating characters, hilarious situations, witty dialogue, lavishly-executed setpieces and enough gore to please the most jaded of hounds, Botched is an absolute treat from start to finish. I’ve always wondered what happened to director Kit Ryan but I now see that his sophomore feature, Dementamania (2013), just opened in the UK this month. If his new one is anything like his first one, it looks like I’ve got another potential “favorite film” to add to my list.

 

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