12 Hour Shift
Opening Friday, Oct. 2
“Black comedy about the illicit organ trade” is the kind of extreme premise that has to either come from an authentic place—experience, maybe, or the mind of a true eccentric—or commit to full-on camp. But Brea Grant’s 12 Hour Shift doesn’t quite manage either, and its flat, bargain-basement style isn’t enough to compensate. Left to their own devices, the clichéd characters, self-conscious dialogue, and slapdash plotting reveal the film as the product of a zany high concept that was cynically gamed out in a screenwriting workshop.
The opening scene, a cigarette break separating two nurses’ shifts at a hospital in Arkansas, introduces Mandy (Angela Bettis) as a world-weary avatar of the modern shift worker. She’s jaded and exhausted, kept awake by stimulants, sane by narcotics, and solvent with side hustles. Bettis supplies what little conviction there is here, and if the rest of the film took her character as seriously, her role as a procurer of kidneys for sale on the black market might feel less arbitrary than it does.
We learn about Mandy’s crimes when her cousin-in-law, Regina (Chloe Farnworth), shows up with cash and a mini-cooler to collect the latest kidney at the start of Mandy’s overnight shift. A bottle blonde in a halter top and bellbottoms, Regina is moonlighting as the delivery girl for the gang Mandy sells to. Grant lets Farnworth (a British actress with an unconvincing drawl) chew as much scenery as she wants, which is immediately grating.
Regina’s function as a ditzy foil for the cool and collected Mandy (not to mention the entire plot) is undermined just as quickly. In full view of Mandy and shot in a tight close-up, Regina sets the bagged-up kidney on the floor. Then both walk away without it, the fateful mistake that sets the chaos of the night in motion. Nothing against farce, but if character differences don’t matter, why establish them?
As the gang descends on the hospital, a convicted murderer (David Arquette) escapes his guard, and incompetent police try to respond. We’re introduced to wacky new characters, each more colorful than the last. But their distinctions are rendered into Dixiesploitation slurry by sloppy directing and an overstuffed script that never takes the time to develop. We learn Mandy has a brother in the hospital and a history of sexual abuse, both only mentioned in passing, and by the time we’re shown a completely incongruous magical-realist vignette in which a security guard launches into song, there’s nothing left except a tedious procession of atrocities.
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