With unhinged moxie and violent humor to spare, the low budget lark Dust Up is a surprise blast. For a movie so boyishly bent on Ozsploitation-esque no-man’s land mutilation and death, the film undeniably sparks with life and the sheer joy of handcrafted filmmaking.
I had nearly as much fun watching it as the cast and crew obviously did making it. The film isn’t for everyone, but one look at the movie’s cool spaghetti Western/exploitation poster art, and ideal audience members will know whether to consider lining up for this or not. Dust Up plays as if Robert Rodriguez met Joss Whedon in the desert on three-wheelers (running on fumes) with no cash but plenty of enthusiasm.
What goes down is this: A loud-mouthed, hard partying, drug-dealing oppressor of the populace, Buzz (a hilarious, scene-stealing Jeremiah Birkett), wants his money from young mom Ella’s (Amber Benson) deadbeat but weirdly articulate meth junkie husband (Travis Betz). But while the husband is away being a roadie for Hoobastank, a plumbing emergency causes Ella to summon the services of steely eye-patched handyman Jack (Aaron Gaffey), a war veteran who’s tasted blood, and isn’t keen for a second helping.
Soon though, all the messed-up paths cross, and with the help of Jack’s scrawny (and suspiciously light complected) Native American friend Mo (Devin Barry), showdowns occur, and the populace of this sparse no-horse town is thinned all the more. Ella’s baby girl is in tow all the while, just to up the ante and keep parental viewers on pins and needles.
The Whedon aspect is immediately apparent with the starring presence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Amber Benson, but beyond that, filmmaker Ward Roberts’ genre-embracing sincerity mixed with his need to transcend action film expectations via sharply hilarious dialogue and unlikely characters rings of Whedon in the best ways.
As for Austin, Texas maverick auteur Rodriguez, Dust Up evokes that filmmaker’s hyper-violent action filmography, particularly the sand and sky infused Mariachi trilogy (El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico). However, to its perhaps unintended benefit, Dust Up’s insistence on pushing boundaries with certain themes (including cannibalism, meth jokes, one downright twisted and graphic sexualized death scene, and the most useless, exhausted orgy ever committed to film) can’t overpower its own gee-whiz inner-innocence. These exploitive aspects do get our attention, but Roberts’ humor and pacing are what truly makes Dust Up a ride worth taking. Like Rodriguez’ work, everyone in this brutal world may be a badass, and yes, blood and gore fly freely, wantonly, and often. But where Rodriguez’ work inevitably rings hollow, Dust Up has a rapidly beating, bloody heart.
Dust Up is a funny, insane cinematic hoot, and I look forward to whatever dust these people kick up next.