Stark Raving Mad (2003) Movie Review

“Stark Raving Mad” is one of those thrilling movies that has a lot of flaws, but you’ll only realize said flaws only after the credits have rolled. (It’s a lot like “Phone Booth” in that respect.) The movie also entertains one of my movie pet peeves. To wit: The character played by Lou Diamond Phillips, a Chinatown crimelord, stinks of cliché. Is there any doubt that he will talk without using contractions? That he will call our hero “Benjamin” instead of the casual “Ben”? Or that he likes to tell stories in order to relate what evil things he’ll do to you? Movie Crimelords have become such a clich’ that screenwriters now write them without ever realizing just how clich’ their Movie Crimelord is.

Pet peeves aside, “Stark Raving Mad” is a clever Heist film starring a surprisingly effective Seann William Scott (“Bulletproof Monk”), who proves that he can play a tough leading man just as well as the good-natured goofball he’s made a career out of in movies like “American Pie” and “Old School”. In “Mad”, Scott is Ben, a low-level criminal renting out a building in Chinatown for a late-night rave. But the rave is just a cover, because it’s the bank next door that is Ben’s real target. Ben plans on using the rave and the noise it generates to cover his carefully planned heist, which is to take place in the building’s basement. Of course why a major bank is conveniently located next to a dive of a building is a bit of a mystery, but I guess that’s what they mean by “suspension of disbelief.”

“Mad” also stars the aforementioned Lou Diamond Phillips (“A Better Way to Die”) as untrustworthy crimelord Gregory (aren’t they always?), who Ben is stealing a valuable artifact hidden inside the bank for. But of course Ben has his own plans, one of which involves the death of his brother Kevin, who is mentioned in passing but never fully explored. In order to pull off the heist, Ben has to maneuver through a sea of obstacles, including but not limited to: a DJ who won’t play the music Ben needs played; a underage girl with the hots for Ben; two undercover FBI agents (one played by Dave Foley) roving the premise; the local Chinese gang that wants in; and 3 very quirky bank robbers that can’t seem to get along.

Also, Ben is shouldering the responsibility for screw-up Rikki (Timm Sharp); although why, like much of the movie, is never explained. The screenplay by co-directors Drew Daywalt and David Schneider has all the twists and turns figured out, but neither men seems to have remembered to keep the whole heist idea in the realm of possibility. And not a bit surprising is that characters end up being related to other characters, and by movie’s end all the seemingly unrelated plotlines come together for a photo finish. And while “Mad” does manage to encourage more tension and suspense than the similarly ludicrous Heist film “Ocean’s 11”, there’s very little doubt that the fast-thinking Ben will pull it off in the end, just as we knew that George Clooney could not possibly fail in his bank robbing scheme.

So if believability is not necessary for your enjoyment, then “Stark Raving Mad” is a terrific way to past the night. It’s fast-paced, incredibly breezy, and the setting — a nightlong rave where anything and everything seems possible — is, as the kids like to say, “hopping”. The music is also pretty good, made up of mostly instrumental beats i.e. techno. Directors Daywalt and Scheider has literally shot and edited “Mad” for the MTV crowd. Everything is constantly moving, the camera never stays still, and the editing is choppy, fractured, and erratic — all of it on purpose.

Since there’s little chance of boredom with “Mad’s” whirlwind visuals and A.D.D.-laden technique, most viewers won’t have the chance to entertain troubling issues regarding the screenplay. To be sure, the script is messy and not very believable, and the ending is completely unrealistic, but then again so is the entire idea behind the heist. And yet, it was fun to watch Seann William Scott take on a more mature role, playing a hero that has his head on straight even when everyone around him is losing theirs. I would like to see Scott in more of these roles, especially since he proves just how capable he is. Also, the fuzzy facial hair works.

Drew Daywalt, David Schneider (director) / Drew Daywalt, David Schneider (screenplay)
CAST: Seann William Scott …. Ben McGewen
Timm Sharp …. Rikki Simms
Patrick Breen …. Jeffrey Jay
John B. Crye …. Jake Nealson
Lou Diamond Phillips …. Mr. Gregory

Buy Stark Raving Mad on DVD