Execution is the most important aspect of any thriller. A science fiction movie with good ideas can stand pokey pacing and indifferent acting. A drama can overcome hokey or outdated material with powerful performances. But in a purely cinematic, manipulative genre like the thriller, filmmaking is at a paramount. Holding the audience’s attention, placing them in the action, building up tension, that’s what thrillers are supposed to do. The Zero Boys does not.
It starts with an interesting enough premise - what happens if slasher movies villains go up against people with some degree of combat training? And then doesn't really do much with it. The titular Zero Boys are weekend warriors who take part in paramilitary paintball war games. We meet them in a staged Old West style town, fighting against a colorful group of yahoos including one dressed up like a Nazi officer (a character who, for reasons of the movie’s own, is very clearly noted to be Jewish). The problems with the film’s style begins right here in what should have been a fun and exciting set piece.
No characters have been established, so for the first 8 minutes of the show we are basically watching random men walk through a ghost town and take pot shots at each other. The bullets kick up dirt in the ground, and occasionally take people out. It’s only after the last shot is fired that it is made completely clear these are paint pellets, not real bullets, and this is a war game being watched by a crowd.
The crowd just happens to be sitting on trucks and cars parked underneath a sign that has been shown repeatedly in the preceding scenes, but without the spectators. In order to begin the film with a not very good gag, keeping the audience in the dark as to whether or not characters are actually being killed, the director just doesn’t show the crowd in shots where they should be clearly visible. It’s a dumb and irritating cheat, and it gains the film nothing: since we don’t have anyone to root for at the beginning, it doesn’t matter to us whether they’re real dead or pretend dead. Even as some sort of metatextual commentary on the nature of watching pretend violence as entertainment, it falls flat because it doesn’t have a point of view.
It's a subject that comes up again as our protagonists, fresh from their victory, takes their women on a camp-out, including one woman who was offered up as a prize to the winning team (she wasn't particularly happy with the arrangement.) Our characters trip, after a drive through L.A. that the commentary reveals was shot completely without permits, end up in a completely different genre - the slasher movie. After the trip to the woods, they stop off in an apparently empty cabin, and immediately the Boys start making jokes about Jason coming to get them (not coincidentally, one of the extras points out the cabin set The Zero Boys was shot in was also a location in Friday the 13th.)
When the slasher movie stuff starts happening, a pair of our gun-toting heroes eventually find themselves in the barn, where they find video cameras and footage of girls being tortured on tape. Of course, since it's a horror movie/action movie, they proceed to shoot up the stuff.
There's some charm in the weirdness, the goofiness of the whole set up, and the technical aspects are a lot better than one would expect, given the budget. There's high quality cinematography and evocative lighting. For this sort of movie the performances are not bad (though our heroes the Zero Boys are a little on the smarmy side for my tastes) and the story builds up to its moment of fright, rather than just leaping in with both feet.
Except those moments of fright never really frighten. The action is loud, many bullets are shot and shell casings spilled, there's even some exploding cars, but it's not all that energizing. It's an action-horror hybrid that doesn't do too much with either of its genres.
While I didn't care for the movie, if one is a fan of The Zero Boys, it would be hard to imagine a better package for the film than this Arrow video Blu-ray release. The video looks fantastic, and there are the usual copious extras Arrow includes with their films. The disc contains an amusing feature-length commentary with star Kelli Maroney, where she details just how tough it was to work with Greek director Nico Mastorakis (who, when an actor did a take he didn't like, would scream "You fuck my film!"). There are several video extras including a nearly 30 minute short of Mastorakis interviewing himself, which reveals several eventually famous names who worked on the film like Frank Darabont in the art department, and Hans Zimmer co-composing the score. There are a couple of short (8 minute) video interviews with Kelli Maroney and Nicole Rio, a trailer, production stills, and a pair of "music videos" which are edited clips from the film set to a couple of cues from the score. While the film left me rather cold, I can think of some of my own obscure movie favorites that I wish could get this kind of treatment on Blu-ray. For someone who is already a cult follower of The Zero Boys, this release is a no-brainer.