Never Been Thawed makes the most of a very low budget with its high-energy cast and concept. This genial though uneven mockumentary delves into the world of "TV-dinner collectors" and their attempt to launch the first international Frozen Entree Enthusiasts Convention.
Director Sean Anders and co-writers Chuck LeVinus and John Morris make fun of real-life collector cults by crafting their own absurd cult featuring a variety of strange characters-Shawn, a manic dental hygienist; Shelly, his virginal Christian girlfriend; Al, a bass player in Shawn and Shelly's God Rock band; Milo, the band's manager (and an anti-abortion activist); and Vince, a wealthy man who poses a threat to Shawn's leadership position.
There are a number of aspects to like about this satire, which recalls Christopher Guest's Best in Show in terms of structure and tone. Of course, that film primarily poked fun at nutty show-dog owners and the religious rituals of dog shows. Never Been Thawed takes on quite a bit more with its lacerating parodies of obsessive collectors, born-again Christian ideology, God Rock music, anti-abortion crusaders, sexual "conversion" theory, talk-radio nastiness, and primal-scream camps where participants get in touch with their inner selves by executing self-abusive stunts.
Some of the bits of business are quite funny-Milo's No Choice Cafe, situated across from a family-planning clinic, is an inspired invention with its fetus-design motif; and the William Jefferson Clinton Abstinence Center, where Shelly works the hotline, is almost as clever with its intercourse-intervention system. Unfortunately, other bits either fall flat-the Christian rock send-ups are surprisingly bland-or become downright unpleasant.
Like Best in Show, too, Never Been Thawed loses some steam by trying to maintain the same edgy humor for the entire length of the film (87 minutes). This is the sort of thing that dooms "Saturday Night Live" sketches that are turned into theatrical features (Superstar, A Night at the Roxbury). And unlike Best in Show, Never Been Thawed too often gets far away from its original satiric target (the collectors and their convention). It is almost as though Anders and his able cast and crew didn't trust their initial idea enough and/or wanted to jam their first movie with every possible humorous notion.
Still, when the film works, it works well, and there should be enough novel material to satisfy fans of the mockumentary subgenre.
-Eric Monder