Everyone has something they’re passionate about. For me it’s film. For some people it’s sports, or money… or cars. But most people are pretty even-tempered in how they pursue their passions. Sure, some people might lose a paycheck betting on their favourite team in the Super Bowl, but how often are people willing to kill what they love?
Enter Bambi (great name, especially when spoken in an Australian accent). She’s an aspiring filmmaker who just got the news that her first film is about to be financed! Too excited to wait for the check to clear, she runs right out and drops all her savings on her dream car: a cherry red 1968 Dodge Phoenix (an appropriate choice given the themes of the film). Of course, when the inevitable happens and film’s funding falls through, she can’t even afford to fill up the gas tank. She then stumbles upon a scheme to use voodoo, an ox heart, and the blood of dead drunks to bring her car to life.
Yep, it’s that kind of film.
This movie really has a lot going for it, stylistically speaking. Bambi dresses like a millennial’s idea of a 50’s pin-up, and the titular muscle car simply completes the look. The film never takes itself too seriously and really leans into the schlocky subject matter.
The best aspect however, is the incredibly well animated graphic novel-style cut scenes. They help disguise some sloppy plotting by filling in exposition in a visually interesting way, without bogging down the pace of the film. It’s quite similar to the graphic novel cutscenes in Repo, The Genetic Opera, but these are much more integral to the film and look a lot more crisp and polished. This is a credit to first time director Dwayne Labbe, who worked as an animator on many of my favourite childhood cartoon series’, such as Goof Troop, Ren & Stimpy, and Darkwing Duck.
In fact, if this film was done entirely in this animation style, I think it would have been a huge success. In the end, the live action parts of the film don’t live up to the potential of the animation. You can tell the budget was extremely low. The cinematography is lackluster, the performances are mediocre-to-amateurish and the characters are wildly inconsistent (I still have no idea why Bambi’s brother switched from thinking she’s crazy to enthusiastically helping her murder people). Plus, given the premise of the film, there is a surprising lack of gore and nudity (Ozsploitation staples).
MUSCLECAR was a valiant effort from a talented animator who wanted to make the leap into live action film. It’s definitely a fun ride, but it isn’t executed well enough to live up to its potential. Maybe Dwayne Labbe will make strides in his next film, but I honestly hope he sticks to animation. He’s wonderful at it.