Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Day Twenty-Nine: The Corndog Man (1999) - Rank 3.5/5


Like a great con, most super-low-budget, independent films require a hook to reel you in. For "The Corndog Man," it's the opening monologue. The film begins with a tight shot on the bloated lips of Ace Barker, a fast-talking boat salesman, as he rants about how he'd sell a boat to a "colored man, 'cause it don't make no difference who he is." Ace Barker is how Shelley Levine (from "Glengarry Glen Ross") would have turned out if he'd remained successful into his golden years...and been raised in Mobile, Alabama.

The crux of the film is a stranger rolls into town and spends every dying moment harassing Ace over the telephone. At first he acts like he's genuinely interested in buying a boat, then he simply keeps crank calling Ace at work and home and son it escalates into a form of terrorism. The heart of the story is Ace Barker, played perfectly by veteran character actor Noble Willingham. For most of the film, I almost felt like I was watching documentation of an elaborate practical jokes. You never doubt Williangham's Ace Barker for a moment (his sense of dialog is fantastic - the type of stuff the Coen brothers only wish they could write). He becomes more ornery and vindictive as the harassment continues, but never does he resign to defeat. He simply picks up the phone again and again, cursing every obscenity and racial slur in the book to the mysterious individual over the phone, and through this tenacity you begin to see the bigger picture behind this pathetic man. I suppose you could classify it a character study of a bitter, old, bigoted son of a bitch.


Without Willingham's portrayal, the film would probably be unwatchable. The problem is: if you're going to lead audiences on for over an hour with a series of vulgar and cryptic phone calls and attempts on the lead's life, you'd better have a damn good payoff. However, when you finally learn why the stranger has been torturing Ace Barker all this time, you find yourself thinking: "Oh...that's it?" Still, the film is definitely worth a watch for Noble Willingham's outstanding performance.

Watch the Subpar Trailer

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