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Undeveloped characters undermine efforts of wannabe cult film

Proving once again that you can’t make a cult film on purpose, “Never Been Thawed” is a mock documentary about the bizarre—and one assumes fake—subculture of frozen food entrée enthusiasts. The satirical comedy, starring newcomer Sean Anders, who also co-wrote and co-directed, is—pardon the pun—half-baked. The ideas are good on paper, but on screen, they fall flat. Although this film, lovingly made on the cheap for approximately $25,000, shows considerable promise, it never quite delivers the laughs. It is like an extended late night TV sketch show, with jokes that while initially amusing, soon become repetitious.

“Never Been Thawed” introduces several quirky characters, all played by first-time actors. There’s Shawn (Anders), the leader of the Mesa Frozen Entrée Enthusiasts Club, who is also a former punk, now Christian, rocker. He simply changed the words to his song “I Love to Fuck” to “I Love to Pray.”

Shawn’s band mate is Al (Allen Zwolle), a loser who works as a clown haircutter. Al is smitten with Shelly (Shelley Fraiser), a proud virgin, who silently worships Shawn, eats at the “No Choice Café,” an anti-abortion establishment, and works as a counselor at the Intercourse Prevention Hotline.

Other enthusiasts include Matt (Charles Arnold) who plays the highway alphabet game competitively, and captures and stores his own urine; Scott (Scott Isham), a firefighter and “ex-gay” who owns several novelty dinner plates; and Vince another collector who may or may not want to take over the club by undermining Shawn’s authority.

Unfortunately, the two central plot threads—the Shawn/ Shelly/Al love triangle, and the Shawn/Vince rivalry—fail to engage. The character pieces are mildly amusing, but whenever the film gets around to the plot—be it the big frozen food convention coming to town, or the characters’ romantic entanglements, “Never Been Thawed” goes nowhere, slowly. Part of the problem is that the characters are too sketchily drawn and too broadly played. Shawn acts so childishly whenever he is around people that it is hard to find him sympathetic, or care about his relationship, his band, or his club. However, his solo scenes, in which he opens his various freezers to display items from his prized collection—such as the “KISS’ Gene Simmons’ Beef Tongue” dinner and the “Duchamp,” a valuable package designed by a disgruntled frozen food service employee—are genuinely funny. Yet these charming moments work against the petulant character he creates. Anders certainly has enthusiasm for the material, but he has trouble getting the audience as interested or excited.

The best thing in “Never Been Thawed” are the hilarious sight gags—magazines with titles like “Christian Profiteer,” “Trophy Wife,” or “Apathy Monthly”—and various signs, posters, and artwork that provide great chuckles—check out the “No Choice Café” logo. It is obvious that the filmmakers have a very creative sense of humor, but the verbal jokes never quite matches the quality of the visual ones. In fact, too much of “Never Been Thawed” relies on dumb gags and gross-out humor that fail to generate any laughs. The ergo-knob, an angled door handle that prevents carpel tunnel syndrome, is lame, and it is not particularly funny that Shawn urinates in his shampoo to keep his brother from using it to masturbate. What is more, Shelly’s hotline scene, in which she learns the meaning of the sex term “rusty trombone” produces neither yuks nor yucks. In contrast, a scene in which Shelly adjusts her glasses with a dirty hand is far more funny and disgusting.

While each character gets their own little vignette in which to shine, they never are fully developed. Vince holds a corporate training program in which employees undergo the “Viet Cong Prison Camp Experience,” but this is never introduced in his efforts to usurp Shawn’s throne as club leader. “Never Been Thawed” smacks of the filmmakers’ efforts to throw every good idea they had against the wall to see what sticks. This strategy might have worked if the film had better pacing, and the actors were masters of comic timing, but there are more misses than hits. This is not to say that there is no charm in this obviously homemade production, but a little of “Never Been Thawed” goes a long way.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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