Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
How does a movie as good as Sexy Evil Genius (Netflix) manage to come into existence without any fanfare whatsoever? The cast alone should have gotten some traction with fanboys. The core ensemble includes Seth Green, Katee Sackhoff, Michelle Trachtengberg, Harold Perrineau, and William Baldwin. Anthony Michael Hall even shows up for heaven’s sake.
And this isn’t just some conglomeration of secondary stars brought together to draw a crowd. Every one of these actors is well cast and, more importantly, they all do fantastic work. Sackhoff, who I generally find disappointing despite my eternal infatuation with Kara Thrace, gives the performance of her life. Her ear-to-ear grin is at once disarming and terrifying, which is exactly what director Shawn Piller wants it to be.
William Baldwin is kind of the definition of a middle child, though in a very Royal Tenenbaums way. He is pretty exactly halfway between fat, has-been, yet still-famous Stephen, and eternal megastar Alec, who remains a class act despite occasional bouts of public insanity. (Daniel does not count, obvi.) In this movie, William skews closer to Alec, showing he still has it in him to effortlessly pull off the handsome leading man thing. His acting skills are nowhere near degraded enough to justify his recent absence from major film and television projects.
And of course Buffy alums Seth Green and Michelle Trachtenberg are who they are. Though neither needs to worry about preparing an Oscar speech any time soon, they’re both utterly charming young actors in the prime of their careers.
But let’s forget the (relatively) big names and look at the movie itself. I’d call Sexy Evil Genius a dark comedy, but it’s really more than that. The screenplay is extraordinarily tight. It’s so streamlined it could function as a stage play just as well as it does a film. As it’s directed here, the script exerts precise control over audience expectations from the very first scene, a flash forward to police cars and ambulances carrying unseen passengers with unspecified injuries. From the outset you know shit is about to turn sour but you don’t know how bad it will be or who’ll be involved.
In most suspense movies you get a sense of which characters are blameless and therefore worthy of emotional investment. But knowing who to root for or against takes away some of the tension, so Sexy Evil Genius refuses to present any one character as a total shitheel. By not revealing any obvious bad guys, it becomes impossible to view any character’s decisions without a sense of ominous foreboding. If everyone could be in some way villainous, any of them might have some comeuppance ahead.
So often these talky, self-aware dramadies are cute and smart but ultimately lead no where. They fall apart toward the end of the second act and generally resolve to build ever more improbably toward a shocking, unjustifiable climax. The journey is often fun, but the destination makes you regret paying full fare. Not so in this case. Sexy Evil Genius makes perfect sense throughout and never lowers itself to deliver cheap startling moments. Sackhoff’s half-insane Nikki has a plan and, wild and ambitious as it is eventually revealed to be, it does not feel either impossible or unduly artificial.
Added bonus: This doesn’t in any way impact the merits of the movie but while I was trying to figure out why this hasn’t been touring the world as a festival darling, I happened upon the 15-minute documentary above. It’s about the screenwriter of Sexy Evil Genius, Scott Lew, and what he had to go through to write this movie. There’s a reason this doc was on the short list for an Oscar this year. Whatever problems you’re dealing with, whatever excuses you have for not getting your shit together and doing something amazing, they are, by comparison, pretty fucking weak.