13 January 2009 | clarisnl_03
Sadism has never been funnier.
Inspiration is a coy mistress. Many an artist has grappled with her elusive nature through the ages to achieve greatness. And while muses and narcotics have come to the aid of some struggling for the creative impulse, "The Art of Pain" reveals a more reliable method: absolute devastation, courtesy of a rampant ninja.
Hot off of winning the Audience Award last spring at the Sunscreen Film Festival, Chicagoan writer/director Matt Brookens's "The Art of Pain" follows the mission of Marcus (John LaFlamboy), a greaser ninja desperate to win the approval of his demanding sensei (Arvin Jalandoon) and, consequently, his black belt. Marcus is told he lacks creativity and distinction, which he decides to remedy by exploiting the same qualities in someone else.
After gaining employment at a multiplex, Marcus recognizes his new coworker Jack (Anders Erickson) from high school. Back then, Jack was an avid painter, but Marcus can see that the complacency born of his job and his pretty girlfriend Sharon (Lauren Bishop) are stifling his potential. The combination of an informative run-in with George Romano (actually played by Lloyd Kaufman of the "Toxic Avenger" series), and a drug-fueled trip that brings the zombie metaphor to life, lead Marcus to hatch a pain-inflicting plan.
By systematically destroying Jack's sparse but content existence, Marcus hopes to wrench emotive paintings from him that will land him a contract to produce a mural for a new high rise. Jack's masterpieces would thus make Marcus a winner, apparently in accordance with the distributive property. His first step in releasing Jack's untapped talent is to start tapping his girlfriend, which leads to a hilarious public falling out between the lovers as well as an artistic awakening. And Marcus's tactics only get more brutal from there.
Centering as it does on artistic impulses and the creative brain, "The Art of Pain" intuitively manifests this world in the relationship between Jack and his geeky best friend Nick (Greg Brookens). As the pair brainstorm about a comic they're making together featuring the mythological Skunk Ape, animated characters spill across the screen. Additionally, their shared visualization of the great beyond and even their commonplace conversations teem with the originality that Marcus covets.
Meanwhile, Marcus inhabits a completely different universe from his coworkers. Ample showdowns with his sensei and fellow students take place in Chicago, but they achieve the imperial kung fu vibe. This is mainly thanks to the actors' expert handling of the fight choreography, which often includes authentic weaponry. Marcus's appearance at the mundane movie theatre is thereby initially hard to fathom, but later on, his guerilla attacks profit from his eccentric image.
"The Art of Pain" is built on a sadistic premise, but it's great fun watching it unfold. Characters like Peppito the perverted projectionist (Marshall Bean) and Charlie the effete manager (Jake Hames) pepper the theatre scenes, threatening to steal several of them. Also riotous to behold is the sheer number of ways someone can get his ass kicked; new weapons are literally invented for the cause.
With an alchemized mixture of gore and jest, "The Art of Pain" has the ability to gag, slay, and -- above all -- entertain.