The birdbrains of The Mentor (Photo: Wind In A City Films & Legacy Pictures)
★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Moez Solis
STARS Brandi Nicole Payne, Liz Sklar
The poster tagline for The Mentor reads, “Kidnapping Is Anti-Kidnapping.” Seeing such a nonsensical line like this brought to mind the team of Tim and Eric, whose comedic work has been described by fans as “anti-comedy” and “anti-humor.” There’s a certain degree of ludicrousness in much of this meta- material, a brand of against-the-grain entertainment that, when done poorly, can come across as pretentious, reaching, or just plain dull. In the case of The Mentor (and T&E, while we’re at it), it’s more accurate to just go ahead and call it anti-entertainment and leave it at that.
Imagine an overzealous college student sitting down in a filmmaking class and tape-recording every single utterance put forth by the verbose professor. Then picture that student dashing home and transcribing the entire lesson, making sure to also name-drop such lofty figures as John Ford and Werner Herzog along the way. Then pretend the student crams the lesson inside the shell of a twisty thriller. The result would be The Mentor, a sophomoric film packed with creaky humor, hip film-insider lingo, and plenty of Herzog references.
The plot (or should that be anti-plot?) centers on arrogant indie director Claire Adams (Liz Sklar) and Nilah Williams (Brandi Nicole Payne), the wanna-be screenwriter who idolizes her. They’re both kidnapped by a group of film students who disguise themselves with bird masks and are thus identified as Mr. Owl, Mr. Emu, Mrs. Hawk … you get the picture.
The kidnappers are hoping to raise money for their own film project, and they figure that Adams’ mother (Mary Ann Rodgers, at the center of one of the movie’s more unwatchable scenes) will pay the ransom to save her daughter. While the five aspiring filmmakers are arguing about which element of their movie most deserves financing (video? audio?) and mulling over who gets what screen credit, Claire and Nilah are looking for ways to elude their captors, frequently interrupting their escape attempts so Nilah can ask questions relating to cinema and Claire can make lofty declarations like, “You will never catch me in a genre picture. They are the soul-sucking, money-making vehicle of the studios.”
This is the first feature film for writer-director Moez Solis, and he should probably be commended for at least trying to do something that’s a little different from the norm. And while his screenplay is brimming with stilted exchanges and unfortunate dialogue (though I did get a chuckle out of a local doctor being named Zhivago), his direction shows that he’s in control of the technical side of his craft: While some of the performances are on the shaky side (the notable exception is Sklar, quite good as the self-centered auteur) and thus lead to some awkward sequences, the overall package is put together in slick fashion. It would be interesting to see what Solis could do with someone else’s material. As for The Mentor, it feels like an attempt to invent some meta-form of navel-gazing.
(The Mentor is now available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Tubi, and other streaming services.)