Film Review: Hunter Gatherer

Writer-director Josh Locy makes a noteworthy feature debut with this big-hearted but flawed indie dramedy that provides a prime showcase for talented character actor Andre Royo.
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Hunter Gatherer, the poignant yet problematic debut feature by writer-director Josh Locy, hits the ground running, or at least with an infectious bounce in its step. Fast-talking, forty-something ex-con Ashley Douglas (Andre Royo) is just out of prison and he’s practically bouncing off the walls ready to get things started. First on his agenda is throwing his own blowout welcome-home bash. Yeah, it’s not so much a blowout bash as it is a cozy get-together at his mom’s house in South Central L.A., but there will be cake. Ashley’s back, baby!

Unfortunately, despite all his positivity, he’s returned to a no-nonsense neighborhood that’s had time to move on and re-set into a new version of the old routine that doesn’t include him or his fanciful schemes. None of the friends he rings on his mom’s brick-sized cordless phone even politely bluff that they’ll be coming to his party. Ashley quickly gets the picture that although folks might be glad for him that he’s out, no one except his mom (a delightfully exasperated Celestial) is particularly interested in celebrating this achievement. And it is an achievement. Stage, screen and TV vet Royo—who spent several seasons as strung-out informant “Bubbles” Cousins on HBO’s “The Wire”—plays Ashley as a man not bent low by incarceration but proud to have walked out on his own two feet with his wits still about him.

Operating in that crafty mode, Ashley meets, befriends and enlists as his sidekick a lonely young man named Jeremy, a.k.a. “Germs,” the sort of quirky movie oddball who shares a room at a nursing home with his comatose inventor granddad. Frankly, not much of Jeremy’s subplot about selling himself as a lab rat for an increasingly disturbing clinical trial makes much real-world sense. Still, actor George Sample III makes an appreciable impact as the lovably naive kid who serves as the conduit for the film’s lesson about not trusting wholeheartedly in a man who says he has a plan but doesn’t really know how he’ll implement it.

No spring chicken, Ashley quixotically believes he still has a shot to make it as a small businessman. Director Locy, an experienced production designer, and his cinematographer, Jon Aguirresarobe, find a uniquely romantic yet realistic look to convey the golden, sun-kissed land of opportunity their would-be hero envisions among the rundown alleyways of the ’hood. Composer Keegan DeWitt sweetens the scenario with an alternately jazzy and moody score that swings from be-bop drum breaks to dreamy sax solos.

The fairytale quality extends to Ashley’s quest to regain the hand of his lady love Linda (Ashley Wilkerson), the sassy muse whom he imagined duly pining for her man to come home from the pen. He discovers that, like the whole world, Linda has moved on, in her case with a taciturn garbageman named Dwayne (Antonio D. Charity). Dwayne might not have Ashley’s bravado but he does have a job, so for now he’s got Linda. With dry humor and an eye for detail, Locy affords a warmth and dignity to all these characters, drawing us close enough to recognize in Ashley’s every friend or foe, even Dwayne, a genuine human need for loving companionship, for a decent job and a roof overhead, for chances at happiness, whatever happiness is.

Royo pulsates with Ashley’s need to succeed at something. Failing but persistent in his advances towards Linda, he rails against the very idea of settling for less while still hitching his relationship wagon to Jeremy’s insecure aunt, Nat. She’s seen enough to know not to invest too much hope in Ashley’s promises. So why can’t she help herself? As pragmatic Nat, actress Kellee Stewart’s face glows with the affection her character feels for Ashley, even as he informs her in no uncertain terms that his heart always will belong to Linda. So what does Nat find so captivating about him? What does anyone find captivating about this selfish striver? It’s here in the late going, muddling through Ashley’s dastardly turns, that the story, once light on its feet, begins to stumble. The fairytale sours into a sober character study that strains plausibility and ultimately doesn’t quite add up to a satisfying take on the indomitable spirit of the American dreamer. We can hope, though, that it does lead to future successes for all involved, particularly Royo, Sample, Stewart and filmmaker Locy.

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