If you’re looking for a thought-provoking indie science-fiction flick in a grounded setting, you might try this year’s sleeper Upgrade. Remember that title or else you might rent this next movie by mistake.
Clyde Cooper is about an eponymous PI assigned with tracking down a missing girl. She, a call “girl” on the run from a shady corporation, is more than meets the eye (yes, I’m saying she is a robot). A promising premise, but the film bungles it in the execution.
This picture is written and directed by Peter Daskaloff; he also produced and edited it. This is standard for a low, low budget film, and sometimes it is a recipe for disaster. Some filmmakers can get away with playing auteur, others clearly cut too many corners.
In this case, we have the latter situation. Locations Daskaloff uses look empty and underdressed and some visual effects are barely finished. In a sequence with the main character rolling down a hill, you can tell that he was thinking to “fix it in post.” The sound is a mess too. Dialogue wavers in pitch throughout and outside noise, like passing trains, was either deliberate or a disturbance Daskaloff decided to work with.
Most of the acting is poor or stilted, and timing is off-kilter for a few actors. In one scene, a “doll” is freed by her handlers (I guess you’d call them) and then answers an iPhone ringing in her bag. She is able to take the call for about a solid minute before one guy snatches it and says, “No phone calls! I don’t trust you.” Maybe be quicker on the draw then and don’t let her pick up in the first place.
Our hero, Clyde (Jordi Vilasuso), is supposed to be a brooding tough guy yet he gets knocked out twice in the span of five minutes and does nothing about it. In fact, he seems to immediately forget, which explains why people keep getting the drop on him. No, he’s more concerned with bad one-liners (one he steals from She’s Gotta Have It). And he vapes, so you know he is edgy.
The film attempts to have a noir quality about it, and with a gumshoe for a lead pursuing an ersatz femme fatale, how could it not? But there is a lot of narration and inner monologuing by Clyde while he drives around. Usually, he spouts detective-fiction cliches or another bad one-liner.
You could look at Clyde Cooper as a comedy, and it’s probably intended to be, but it isn’t all that funny. It has a little “good bad movie” charm to it, and it is a throwback to cheap auteur cinema of the 70s and 80s in a way, but there are Jim Wynorski movies with better character development and production quality. Exploitation was a specialty of Corman prodigies like Wynorski. Daskaloff gives it a try, but Cooper is the exploitation film that never really gets started. Any love or nude scenes get stopped dead in their tracks (by Clyde being knocked out or somebody being shot) before whatever kind of point there is to make can be made. Knock him down, tie him up maybe, let him wake up, and forget the inciting action that brought us to this point. It’s the kind of filmmaking you laugh at in a bad way.
Daskaloff raises a lot of questions about female agency, exploitation, machines passing The Turing Test, the implications of that, and androids replacing humans in the near future. However, he doesn’t provide any answers. He basically plays at being Ridley Scott, treading territory Blade Runner already trekked, several times.
Whatever he wanted to accomplish or message he tried to send, it is conveyed about as well as what Ed Wood was trying to say with Plan 9. Considering the ending, Daskaloff might be intimating that the conspiracy — if there really is one — to dehumanize and commodify love and sex is coming, like it or not.