A morality tale/satire about American greed, “Americons” is a low-budget feature written and funded entirely by its two stars, Beau Martin Williams and Matt Funke. The duo, who poured some of their personal experiences working in the real estate market into the screenplay, obviously set out to create a cautionary story revolving around the many shady, immoral, and nihilistic behaviors that plagued the rise and eventual crash of the sub-prime mortgage boom that almost single-handedly created the economic collapse in 2008.
Their hearts are in the right place, but unfortunately while that gives them an “A” for effort, they get an “F” for execution. Even though we’re fairly early into the year, I can say with enough confidence that “Americons” will go down as one of the dullest, flattest, most on the nose, and didactic indies of 2015. It’s as if Williams and Funke, along with director Theo Avgerinos, took great Wall Street satires and morality tales like “Wolf of Wall Street,” “Wall Street,” “Boiler Room,” and even the excellent documentary “Inside Job,” pulled all of the humor and rage out of them, and distilled their essences into a clunky after school special.
Our wooden protagonist is Jason (Williams), a once promising college football star who’s relegated to a go-nowhere career as a bouncer at an L.A. club. One night, major real estate player Devin (Funke, who portrays his character as something between a Bond villain and a Venice Beach douchebag), drops mad cash at the club and recognizes Jason from his football days. Devin offers Jason a job in real estate on the spot, using a line straight out of one of those spam emails your grandmother, who for some reason still uses AOL, gets (“You make 30K a year? How would you like to make that in a day?”), because apparently being able to play football is the perfect job experience for becoming a sub-prime mortgage broker.
While thinking about the offer, Jason finds out that his girlfriend, Taylor (Alyshia Ochse), forgot to pay the power bill, which works as the catalyst for Jason to take on the job. I understand that the point behind this scene was to show the audience that Jason was tired of being broke, propelling the character to take a chance on the risky real estate market. However, the scene is so confusingly handled that the power bill-centered motivation comes off more as an issue of punctuality than a financial one.
It doesn’t take long for Devin to corrupt Jason, who dives headfirst into the hedonistic and greedy lifestyle full of drugs, parties, hot women (as hot as the low-budget production could afford, at least), not to mention tons of illegal activity perpetrated in order to close the many shaky loans and screw their clients. When one of these suckers turns out to be Theo (Trai Byers), Jason’s buddy from his football days, he does a sudden moral u-turn and the already wobbly screenplay of the film crash-lands into a predictable third act centering on the redemption of a character we cared very little about in the first place. To add insult to injury, the film’s superfluous epilogue undoes what little character arc was created in order to finish on a cheap twist.
The performances in “Americons” are underwhelming to say the least, and bland to tell the truth, which is strange since this was supposed to be a “Good Will Hunting” moment for Williams and Funke, who look like they’d rather be anywhere else rather than acting on the set of the movie they poured their hearts, souls, and bank accounts into. Only legendary actor Sam McMurray, who has a whopping 173 credits to his name, brings some energy and bite to his minor role as a merciless predatory lender.
Even though it’s supposed to visualize the glamorous and excessive lifestyles of its characters, the production value of “Americons” is a notch below soft-core porn. It’s understandable that they couldn’t pull off the expensive and gaudy party scenes because of budgetary reasons, but why bite off more than you can chew? Why not start off with a more subtle character study suitable for this budget and reserve “Americons” for a bigger second feature? It looks like the crew tried to shoot the numerous party scenes with as many handheld close ups as possible, unsuccessfully trying to hide the fact that the production could only afford up to five extras at a time.
The overtly digital DP work makes “Americons” borderline unwatchable. It looks like the film was shot flat, without much thought for lighting or depth of field, then color corrected to death in post in order to give it an artificially spiffy look. Soft focus visuals make it look like the camera was fitted with a vinyl filter drenched in Vaseline during the entire shoot. The overuse of lens flares and bright white light effects are obnoxious and headache inducing. There are many movies that require audiences to wear 3D glasses, but “Americons” might be the first film in history where a pair of sunglasses should be handed out before the screening so that the audience can merely see what’s happening the frame.
Let’s end with a financial metaphor ranking the quality of movies via mortgage loans: If the above-mentioned films (“Wolf of Wall Street,” etc…) are guaranteed fixed-rate mortgages, then “Americons” is a shady sub-prime loan you should not waste your time and energy on. [D-]