October 28, 2019 Manifest Destiny Down: Spacetime (Movie Review)
Manifest Destiny Down: Spacetime looks to be a labor of love, as Jonathan Baker (Basmati Blues 2017. Crown Heights 2017) and Bo D (Private Sky 2020) both co-produced, co-wrote and co-directed it. Bo D even provided original music for the film. An absurd Comedy due out on DVD, Blu-Ray and a range of VOD platforms from October 29th, 2019 onwards, it may be a stoner film, but it has big ideas. So, does it have substance? Or will it require substances to get through?
It aims to talk about a lot too – science, philosophy, religion, and the difference between psychedelic drugs and dissociative drugs. In it, physics major & OCD stoner Toby (Jeff Kenny: Harper Finch 2016) is convinced he has not only solved the Theory of Everything but proved the existence of God too. Which comes in handy, as the universe has become entangled with another one. But while everyone on Earth was evacuating the planet, Toby was having a tryst with an ex-Catholic sorority girl called Kara (Lexie Lowell: Platypus the Musical 2013). Their only hope now is to figure out a way to untangle their universe, while avoiding the mysterious agent (Baker) on their tail.
It certainly does not take long to get silly. Nor in introducing its characters, giving the audience a pretty strong idea of what to expect. Kara’s a party girl in over her head after a bad choice of a one-night stand, and Toby is a tinfoil hat away from talking about lizard people. Except he is also a genius and happens to be right about most things.
The film aims to take dry topics and make them more palatable. Physics can prove some mind-bending concepts. They are just buried underneath either a mound of algebra and equations, or jargon and technobabble. It is like going to Burning Man, but the only transport choices are either learning how to fly a plane or walking there from Maine.
So Manifest spices it up with a wild plot, but also some colorful asides. It is perhaps not every day one gets a micro-lecture on entanglement with an animated blackboard, and a woman in a bikini laying on a car. Toby serves as the audience’s science lecturer, albeit more colorful, though just as impenetrable. While Kara acts as the audience’s proxy, trying to get to grips with theoretical physics. She is not dumb – it is just not her field. Her field is general studies.
Oh, and religion. Most of the talk about God’s nature comes from Kara. That Catholic schoolgirl get-up is not just for eye candy, though it is also for that judging by some camera shots. Her talk comes from a more personal, introspective place, as she talks about her past experiences, her troubles, and her examination of current events. Is she an angel? Is the Agent (Baker) God? She is at least sure Toby is not Satan. It would have been nice to see other takes on spirituality. Otherwise, it is limited to a Western Christian take on religion, as that is Kara’s background.
Just as Toby speaks mainly about physics. Except for a specific branch of chemistry and its effect on biology. There is even an animated sequence where he explains what taking salvia is like – how everyone who takes it apparently sees the same stuff, sees themselves as separate parts, etc. Those more in the know, on both science and drug culture, may be able to spot the finer flaws. Otherwise, it seems solid enough for a layperson. For the most part anyway. There are parts that strain credulity for chuckles.
The comedy is certainly smile-inducing. In that it is unlikely to get people rolling in the aisles. There are few guffaws, but the film carries it through on charm and chemistry. Of the social kind this time. Kenny and Lowell make a good duo, bouncing off each other well as their characters contrast and blend. They make a good double-act; Laurel and Hardy if Laurel was Richard Feynman, and Hardy was a woman in a short skirt.
The film even plays its references well. Not that they are particularly subtle or highbrow, though it does not feel like the filmmakers are smashing the audience with them like a Friedberg-Seltzer film. They are more like cheeky nudges, be they plainly visible – like the suited Agent with infra-red, computerized vision or within the soundtrack like the Madonna-esque ‘Not Like a Virgin.’
So, ultimately, Manifest Destiny Down: Spacetime is a film with plenty of charm, good acting, and a solid script with solid ideas. Not that these ideas are particularly easy to get, as Toby himself often contradicts things he just said, with plans changing on the fly as he gets new thoughts about his situation. As such, it does test the audience to try and follow it. Nonetheless, while it may take a few watches to get, the film is still worth seeing. Less charitable viewers may knock half a star off, but in the end, Cryptic Rock gives Manifest Destiny Down: Spacetime 4 out of 5 stars.