College life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is central to the movie Loose Cannons, which made its world premiere at Monona Terrace late Friday night. The auditorium was bursting at the seams with expectant viewers ready to watch the feature-length debut of director of recent UW graduate Andy Schlachtenhaufen. Many others in the crowd counted themselves Badgers as well, both current students and alumni, with more than a few also having a hand in the making of the film. In other words, it was a party.
Appropriately enough, Loose Cannons boasts a Facebook page, wherein it's described as a "Campus Kung Fu Buddy Cop Comedy." The movie is indeed all of these things, but it can also simply be described as kick-ass. Schlachtenhaufen, who created an impressive collection of shorts as a film student at Wisconsin -- see Cinema Toast Crunch for this filmography -- shows he can work in a longer format too. His confident approach to storytelling and distinct jocose style are still there, and in fact flourish in this movie.
Running about an hour-and-a-half, this movie made for about $1,500 is a reimagining of a short film of the same title by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen, the director's brother. This full-length version is a family affair too, with the lead character being played by a cousin, Dave Schlachtenhaufen. Rounding out the cast and crew are many other regulars appearing in Andy's oeuvre, most of them other UW-Madison students well prepared for a comedy about college.
Set at the fictional Madison University, Loose Cannons tells a tale of redemption for a down-on-its-luck student law enforcement operation named Campus Security. Specifically, a pair of undergraduate security go-getters, Chuck Sypholis (Dave Schlachtenhaufen) and Terry Hutchinson (Eric Lim), team up with student reporter Emily Fresca (Liz Holtan), and disgraced guard Glenn Youngblood (Rick Fink) to take down a criminal gang known as The Freshman 15, led by the diabolical and somewhat OCD mastermind Spencer Huntley (Jonathan Lang) and his crony Dexter Holmes (played by Andy Schlachtenhaufen), all the while being threatened with dissolution by campus administration.
A torrent of over-the-top chase scenes and kung fu fights ensues, at least for a no-budget student production, and each is pulled off with panache.
The story is fun and engagingly ridiculous, deliberately mashing-up and tweaking various big screen conventions in the campus and cop genres, anything from tech-ready nerds lending a hand to a climactic Mexican standoff. Even better, though, are a handful of montage sequences, complete with some kind of narration and a catchy tune. An extended opening credit sequence is one example, introducing the history and current status of Campus Security, with others featuring the gang's initial crime spree, a series of interviews by the security guards with potential leads, a subsequent surveillance operation, a blue book exam, and of course, the requisite plunge to rock bottom and subsequent training back to the top tandem, as well as a character-driven epilogue. They're well-executed and likewise fun.
It's the presentation of college setting and the people who live in it, though, that make the film. There's a definite Wes Anderson feel to Loose Cannons with its familiar yet semi-generic and timeless settings like the "Madison University Sports Facility" and "Pi Pi Pi Fraternity," evocative of locales like the "375th Street Y" or the "Hotel Chevalier." There's even an extended backstory, adding to the in-universe approach. And for people familiar with the UW-Madison campus, its particularly fun entertaining to spot the various locations, including Vilas Hall (the aforementioned sports building), the Humanities Building, Memorial Union, Van Hise Hall, Ag Hall, James Madison Park, and Bascom Hill, all in their alternate guises within Madison University.
Also essential are the contributions of two of its stars, Jonathan Lang and Eric Lim, in addition to their acting. Lang composed the soundtrack to Loose Cannons, crafting a great set of Spaghetti Western-inspired tunes that distilled the attitude of the movie. Lim, meanwhile, was responsible for choreographing the fight scenes and training the actors in executing them, making inventive use of weapons like an umbrella and paint roller and adding a little bit of a parkour feel to the action.Loose Cannons certainly entertained its receptive audience on Friday night, drawing multiple ovations at different points during and after the screening. For those who missed it, the film will be showing again soon in Madison, hitting the Orpheum Theatre in a double feature with Lim's Zero Trooper F at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 25.