Let’s be honest and deep dish with one another: We’re here at “Slice” because it stars Chance the Rapper.
No offense to the writer-director or the cast and crew that turned out for the premiere of the entertainingly campy, old-school, drive-in-style movie at Chicago’s ArcLight on Monday night (simulcast to 20 other cities). But the reason there were TV trucks outside and a red carpet inside was the presence of Chance, billed in the opening credits as Chance Bennett.
And yet for the first half of the movie, there’s almost No Chance.
As in, we see his his character, Dax, zipping around town on a scooter — but he’s wearing a full helmet and visor, so it might well be we’re looking at Todd the Stunt Person and not Chance the Rapper. (Note: name of Todd chosen arbitrarily.)
Once Chance takes off his helmet and joins the movie, he’s a natural enough and likable presence — but even then he’s part of an eclectic ensemble of talented actors that (in most cases) strike the right, deadpan notes as they deliver the occasionally inspired lines from writer-director Austin Vesely.
MORE FROM RICHARD ROEPER
At one point, a hard-boiled police detective talks about his hatred of werewolves. (Note: In the world of “Slice,” the existence of ghosts, werewolves and witches is part of life.)
I hate werewolves! growls the copper. A werewolf killed my father.
His partner asks if the werewolf used his claws or his fangs to kill the cop’s dad. How exactly did it happen?
“It was a traffic accident,” comes the reply. “My dad was a crossing guard with a drinking problem.”
That’s pretty great.
“Slice” is set in the town of Kingfisher, USA. (Principal photography on the film took place in Joliet in the summer of 2016.) It’s set in the late 1990s or early 2000s, I’m guessing, by the looks of the technology employed by the characters. (A newspaper reporter has a computer but uses a search engine that looks like very early Google.)
Kingfisher is one of those movie towns that exist unto itself; there are no references to the outside world. It’s a shabby and rather bleak town, with the locals occupying most of the real estate while the ghosts are relegated to their own borough — a ghost town, if you will. (The ghosts don’t seem all that different from the living, other than looking all pale and ghostly — and, if they suffered violent deaths, the gaping wounds. They’re not really big on the haunting and the revenge-seeking or any of that.)
The uneasy but peaceful co-existence of humans and ghosts is threatened when someone starts murdering delivery persons from Perfect Pizza. (Yes, the victims are sliced, right across the throat.) The corrupt and vacuous mayor (a perfectly cast Chris Parnell) advances a theory ghosts are responsible for the killings, for reasons we don’t need to get into — but the police investigation quickly focuses on a certain rogue werewolf who was the suspect in a previous spate of killings, and has returned to town just as the body count is piling up again.
That werewolf would be Chance’s Dax, who maintains he’s not a killer, nor is he a hero, he’s just a good-looking “rascal” who wants to live a normal life and be treated like everyone else. (At one point Dax cracks his neck and begins to shake and howl, as if he’s transforming — and then laughs at the cowering humans, noting there’s not even a full moon, so why are they tripping?)
Dax loved being a delivery person for Yummy Yummy Chinese before it had to close due to most of its employees being murdered. It was quality food at low prices, he says wistfully. QUALITY FOOD.
Writer-director Vesely has a nice eye for detail, and keeps things moving along briskly. The pounding score and the occasional slow-motion shot add to the B-movie flavor.
And the cast is absolutely terrific. Zazie Beetz (“Deadpool 2”) is a badass as Astrid, a former Perfect Pizza employee who again dons the satin delivery jacket in order to track down the killer. Veteran funnyman Paul Scheer scores laughs as the proprietor of the pizza joint. Joe Keery from “Stranger Things” shows up as a goofy newspaper photographer. Rae Gray, who has appeared on many a Chicago stage (Goodman, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Lookingglass) is the grounded center of the film as an earnest investigative reporter for the Kingfisher Chronicle. We even get one scene with Hannibal Buress as a guy named Hannibal.
“Slice” is schlock, but that’s kind of the point. It doesn’t have a tenth of the production values of, say, last week’s violent thriller “Peppermint” (and no doubt it was made for even less than a tenth of that film’s budget). But it has originality, and originality goes a long way.
The insanely zany storyline and the energetic performances, and yes, Chance eventually transforming into a werewolf — all of it kept me entertained throughout, and bless this movie’s black little heart for that.
A24 presents a film written and directed by Austin Vesely. Rated R (for bloody violence, language, some drug material and nude images). Running time: 83 minutes. Available on demand.