Paul, Will and Juan have been best buddies since childhood and, since childhood, have been pulling stupid tricks. At some point, they decided to starting uploading videos of their antics and now, as “The Three Amigos”, they’re YouTube celebrities, no doubt beloved by children, morons, and those who are both. One of the features of their channel is that they allow their fans to send in submissions for challenges they should undertake, which are chosen at random from a fishbowl (a nice piece of physical comedy comes from the bowl being too small for Will to actually shuffle the submissions inside. One wonders if this bit was scripted, or improvised after a prop malfunction.) The latest of these challenges is to drive from their hometown of Miami all the way to New Orleans on scooters not more than 50cc in horsepower. So they accept. And we follow them along their journey, and nothing much happens, until they witness a rape/murder being committed. The perpetrator spots them witnessing his crime, but is initially rather half-hearted about giving chase. The Three Amigos, for their part, elect neither to call the cops nor even to leave the campsite where it happened, instead splitting up and heading into the woods in slasher-movie tradition. Surprisingly, they survive the night, but the real ordeal takes place in the nearby town the next day.
Writer-director Matthew Wohl, on his first feature, delivers something surprisingly ambitious: it’s a found-footage film, a goofy comedy, a road movie, a survival pic, a slasher, and a torture movie. It’s a reflection on YouTube stardom, and the voyeurism that comes with watching violence, whether simulated or real, for fun. It’s a self-aware horror, and it’s a satirical film interested in such topical American issues as racism and police brutality. And it’s easy to see some of these elements working, but the film struggles with most of them. Our leads don’t have enough chemistry with each other to make us want to watch a barely-feature-length movie about them, so it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to watch hundreds of episodes of their YouTube series. And for such a short film, it contains a shocking amount of padding in the form of endless shots, from cameras mounted on helmets and on drones, of the three lads just driving down long, straight, boring roads on their scooters. When they stumble across the plot-instigating murder, 34 minutes in, the film’s already half-over, since the credits roll after 69 minutes.
And worst of all, once we enter the horror portion of the film, the script simply can’t think of anywhere to go. Our villain has essentially no motivation, and our three protagonists aren’t much better. We see a series of the same confrontations play out over and over again, as they make the worst possible decisions in almost every scene. To the picture’s credit, part of this comes from a tension between Will (who is white) and Paul and Juan (who are respectively black and Hispanic), and the heightened danger the latter two perceive around cops and gun-totin’ hicks as a result. There’s something interesting here, something that could have been developed outside of a generic horror pic; to give Wohl the benefit of the doubt, he may well have chosen to début with a horror for the same reason that so many indie directors do, because it’s cheap to shoot and easy to get distributed, rather than through any real love of horror. He may well go on to do good work outside of the genre; he’s unlikely to produce any within it.
Scooter is currently screening in select US cinemas.