A man who performs as a children’s birthday party clown tries to piece his life back together after being gang-raped.
For a movie that has such a cool intro – credits roll over a disembodied clown nose, while subtle, creepy music plays under the visuals, making you think of a number of 1980’s slasher classics – Vulgar certainly is a clunker. Think Clerks, with all the ridiculous dialogue and pseudo-edgy attempts to offend the sensibilities of a mainstream audience, but with a slightly more intricate (but still wholly unbelievable) story. Of course, it’s no leap to compare this to that, as the movie is written and directed by Bryan Johnson, ‘Steve Dave’ in the Kevin Smith film universe, and a majority of the cast is straight out of the same universe. Nope, Kevin Smith didn’t write this one, but you know he’s in it.
Vulgar is about a down on his luck loser named Will Carlson (Brian O’Halloran, better known as Dante Hicks from Clerks) who makes a living as a clown named Flappy at children’s parties. He’s broke, his apartment is a wreck, everyone picks on him, and even his own mother in a nursing home treats him like garbage. He feels like it’s almost time to give up, but then comes up with a “genius” idea. He’ll hire himself out as a clown at bachelor parties, a prank on the groom-to-be, just before the stripper arrives; a clown dressed in fishnets and heels named Vulgar (hence, the title of the movie). But with his first appointment, he gets beaten up, drunk, and forced into videotaped sex (i.e. raped) by Ed Fanelli and his two sons (played by Jerry Lewkowitz, Ethan Suplee, and Matthew Maher, respectively).
Quickly dismissing the mental scarring that the attack would have left, the movie jumps to Will telling his friend Syd (director Bryan Johnson) about it, but refusing to go to the police. Instead, he makes his way to the next Flappy party. He stops when he sees the police at the home of a regular client, the husband holding the daughter at gunpoint after his wife filed for divorce. Somehow Flappy sneaks past all of the police, gets in the house, and tackles the gunman, saving the child and becoming a nationally recognized hero. This leads to a Hollywood agent (played by Kevin Smith) signing Flappy on for a national children show, and by the subsequent montage, we see that Will becomes a very wealthy and popular man. Ed Fanelli also sees that Will becomes a wealthy man, and when he finally recognizes him as the same clown they raped, that is when the blackmail starts.
Vulgar is every early Kevin Smith movie, both in character and in dialogue, but set to a slightly darker theme and storyline. It is steeped in everything 1990’s, as his movies are, and is very bro-friendly; there are a couple female characters, but they are extras or symbols of Will’s obstacles at best, his ever-complaining mother having the most screen time of them all. Even Jason Mewes makes an appearance, still playing the Jay character (this time named Tuott the Basehead), which by now I’ve gathered is essentially Jason Mewes playing himself. The sad thing is, Kevin Smith did end up being successful (critically, if not financially) with a horror movie, Red State, but that movie fell away from every regular trope he employed (probably a big reason for its success). This one, however, is a clunker in nearly every regard.
It’s hard to remember that Kevin Smith was only a minor character (and executive producer) of Vulgar, and not the writer/director. This doesn’t bode well for Bryan Johnson, and it shows in the fact that this is the only writer and director credit to his name (although he is now a regular cast member of the show, “Comic Book Men”). The whole movie feels very obvious, and aside from a tiny twist of little to no consequence at the end, it is wholly predictable. The acting is either over-the-top outrageous (Ed and his sons) or bland and dull with exaggerated dialogue (Will, Syd, Kevin Smith’s Martan Ingram). There are a couple parts of the film where it seems they could have had some success, but decided to play it low-key, whether due to budget restraints or lack of imagination I don’t know. But in the end, there’s not much here for most viewers to enjoy. If you’re a huge Kevin Smith fan, you might find at least a bit of trivia within this movie, as they do reference some of his characters. As for the rest of us, we’d be better off waving our nerd flags over another viewing of Red State or Mallrats. There I go, rtalking like this is a Kevin Smith movie again. I guess it just can’t be helped.