"Slice" (2018) Review
It sure is enthusiastic.
I didn’t know much about Slice going in. I had heard whispers about it for years, but I didn’t even watch the trailer before I went in to watch it last night. All I knew was that Chance the Rapper was in it and his frequent music video collaborator, Austin Vesely, was the director. It turns out that Vesely also wrote the screenplay as well, making a low-budget homage to so many genre pieces before it.
Too many genre pieces, one might argue.
There is an endless creativity to Slice and its confidence is almost enough to tie its many MANY disparate ideas together, but it ultimately isn’t enough, leaving a mostly decent movie in its wake. Slice isn’t bad, but it’s not necessarily good without putting a half-dozen asterisks next to the word “good” either. It’s handsomely shot at every turn, but you’re left wanting just a bit more by the end.
The story is one of those setups that sounds so crazy on paper that it might convince you to see the movie on the spot. Slice takes place in the city of Kingfisher, a city that also has a population of ghosts that walk the streets, along with other supernatural entities. It’s a city literally built on magical realism as ghosts work retail jobs while still making the time to haunt the occasional citizen. But the whole city is put on edge when pizza delivery drivers start getting murdered on the job and the blame lands on the local ghosts. A journalist named Sadie (Rae Gray) is on the case, and working independently of her is a former employee of the pizza place named Astrid (Zazie Beetz) as multiple citizens uncover evidence of a conspiracy involving a werewolf named Dax (Chance the Rapper) and an activist group tied to the local ghosts.
There’s a lot to unpack there, but that’s kind of the problem with the movie. It’s so eager to play with the toys in its sandbox that it never really takes the time to explore any of its ideas in a meaningful way. And yes, this is a horror comedy, and those elements are absolutely there to set up jokes, but they also spend so much extra time on bits that feel like world-building that you can’t help but expect more payoff for those bits. There’s a running idea throughout the movie about ghosts as second class citizens, complete with cops giving each other knowing looks when a murder happens in the “ghost part of town.” It’s barely explored and just sits there as a running joke that never seems to form into anything.
I can’t go into the other storylines without outright spoiling Slice, but it has a problem developing its own internal logic and rules, which is exacerbated by the film’s strange pacing. In a Q and A after the screening, the director revealed that this started as a short film screenplay, and boy does it show. This feels like a great setup for a short film that got stretched way too thin by becoming feature length.
I know that it sounds like I’m being very down on this movie, but that’s the thing about it. Parts of Slice work so well that it makes you wonder why the rest of the movie can’t be as good. There’s a huge moment right in the middle of the movie that gets played in the most nonchalant way possible, and it’s hilarious. Hannibal Buress shows up for what might be a literal thirty-second cameo, but you can bet he makes all thirty seconds count. And the raw performance energy of a few actors keeps the whole movie moving single-handedly. Unsurprisingly, Zazie Beetz is one of those actors. She moves between deadly serious acting and camp in the middle of line deliveries effortlessly and nails exactly what she needs to nail from scene to scene.
The other acting standout is Paul Scheer as Jack, the asshole owner of the pizza place. His character is super over-the-top in a way that could have been very annoying, but Scheer’s expertise in playing scumbags keeps the character entertaining.
But the other actors are in full camp mode and it works against the movie more often than not. It feels like most of the cast thinks they’re in a stage play and not a film, and even in a movie as over-the-top as this, it really wears on you the deeper you get into the movie. The only caricatured performances that work here come in the form of an activist group called Justice 40,000, a group of nefarious soccer moms (I’m exaggerating a bit, they’re not literally soccer moms, but they’re all white women and one of them is named Debbie and almost all of them are in their 40s or 50s, it’s pretty clear what the movie is going for).
The one unabashed positive note in this movie comes in the form of its musical score, composed by Nathan Matthew David and Ludwig Göransson. It’s a full on 80s synth score, and to be fair that’s some of my favorite music in anything period, but it sounded like a good 80s synth style score and I can’t take that away from Slice.
The film’s biggest flaw though comes in the form of an anticlimactic final battle that feels less like a fight for the soul of the city and more like Indiana Jones just shooting the swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark. In a film that relies exclusively on the momentum of its gonzo ideas, centering the film around a final confrontation this unexciting in execution was not a good call.
There’s a lot of other stuff I haven’t touched on in this review, from a sub-plot involving cops to another sub-plot involving a corrupt mayor (and a bit part from Stranger Things actor Joe Keery), but that’s the thing that makes me the saddest about Slice. I don’t feel like talking about any of those things because the film didn’t inspire much in me. It didn’t inspire righteous indignation, it' didn’t inspire rapturous joy. The film just washed over me, but somehow I walked away dry.
I wanted to love, like, or even hate Slice, but instead I just don’t really have any feelings about it. It’s a pretty and occasionally funny distraction, but not a whole lot more.
And Chance the Rapper is fine in the movie. He gets a few good lines, but he’s not in much of it.