Slingshot Cops (2016)

Like an MCU film, an episode of a soap opera, or a single match from a months-long pro wrestling angle, it’s almost entirely pointless to review a Matt Farley picture isolated from the larger context of the Motern Media catalog. Outside maybe the holy trinity of Matt Farley’s most accomplished movies (Local Legends; Monsters, Marriage, and Murder in Manchvegas; and Don’t let the Riverbeast Get You!) it’s difficult to imagine someone stumbling upon a Motern production with no prior context and fully appreciating the perversely wholesome experience of what the film represents. Even Matt Farley’s holy trinity benefits from some prior knowledge of his decades of D.I.Y. media production with a stable cast of recurring collaborators, something you can only experience by watching the movies yourself. Motern Media is the definition of cult cinema in this way, as sinking further into the published materials, released over decades of backyard film productions and novelty songs recordings churned out from attics & basements, feels exactly like being indoctrinated into a cult. You don’t casually appreciate a Matt Farley film so much as you’re put under a spell by it, something you don’t realize until you’re six movies deeper into the catalog and conversing with Farley directly on Twitter, by phone, or traveling to see him perform in person at his annual Motern Media Day Extravaganza concerts (i.e. cult member meetups). As such, Slingshot Cops is not a movie I’d readily recommend to the previously unconverted, but rather the latest dispatch from a maniacal mind that has hijacked my own. It’s an aggressively silly comedy with an unnecessarily complex, self-contained mythology (a descriptor most of Farely’s backyard production share), but it’s something best enjoyed as just one piece in a much larger, sillier whole. It’s a continuation of a performance art piece/cultist tome that has only gained strength in the last two decades of under-the-radar development: Matt Farley’s life & career.

To that point, the first thing I noticed in Slingshot Cops is how much older Farley’s crew of Motern regulars has gotten over the years, especially performers who have been around since the early 00s days of films like Druid Gladiator Clone. As much as Farley is staging supernatural hangout comedies & over-the-top horror spoofs around familiar New England haunts, he’s also documenting the life & times of his inner social circle. Druid Gladiator Clone was a snapshot of their lives as late-college age brats adopting the aesthetic of the skateboard videos & MTV prank shows that defined its era. By the time Slingshot Cops catches up with them, you can feel the not-too-distant early signs of middle age creeping in from corners of the frame. Domesticity, grey hairs, and aging bodies appear onscreen as visual reminders of just how long Farley & co. have been hammering at their insular, decades-long collaboration of building a substantive catalog of supernatural, microbudget comedies. This stamina (or stubbornness depending on how you want to look at it) is impressive not only because of the crew’s collective longevity, but also because how of how well they’ve maintained the silliness at their shared objective’s core. Everyone onscreen might be nearly fifteen years older in Slingshot Cops than they were in Druid Gladiator Clone, but they’re just as big of goofballs as ever, fully committed to the nonsensical absurdity they’re tasked to perform. Even though it’s framed through modern digital equipment instead of adopting the earlier film’s MiniDV camcorder look, Slingshot Cops is of the same quality & wholesomely prankish energy as Druid Gladiator Clone. It’s a consistent commitment to a bit I doubt I’ve ever seen from any filmmaker before, even someone working with 100x Farley’s budget. As with all Motern productions, the existence of the film as a completed product is among Slingshot Cops’s most miraculous accomplishments, but it’s now gotten to the point where Motern’s continued existence itself is the larger, more astounding miracle – something that only becomes more heroic with each subsequent picture.

Matt Farley himself stars in this “supernatural buddy cop comedy” as a loose cannon police officer who’s sworn to protect the small New England town of Woodsville Center. He’s a well-meaning cop (as much as that’s good for), but he often finds himself in “quirky predicaments” that jeopardize his place on the force. In particular, his single-minded obsession with ridding Woodsville Center’s streets of illegal fireworks (which are treated in-film with the same gravitas as heroin) often inspires him to cross the good cop/bad cop line, which sees him demoted and reassigned to tutelage under a more even-keeled, old-timer partner. It turns out, though, that the year-round use of “personal explosives” for “amusement and/or atmospheric aesthetics” is not the only threat to civility in Woodsville Center. The town is also terrorized by the arrival of an international archvillain named Sensefoot, who can steal unsuspecting victims’ senses by touching them with his bare foot. Worse, if he touches their bare foot with his own, he kills them immediately. As if that mythology weren’t overly complicated enough already, Farley’s new partner also has the eccentricity of fighting crime with a slingshot (hence the title), which he arms with carefully-selected acorns. The town also has cartoonish obsessions with cupcakes, folk songs, freethrow basketball contests, and a whole list of other absurdist interests that land Farley & crew in “quirky predicaments” throughout the film. A less developed microbudget comedy would have stuck with a singular idea, framing an entire movie around dogs being terrorized by firework noises or the image of the not-so-mysterious Sensefoot’s glowing appendage approaching from offscreen like a straight razor in a gloved hand from a giallo picture.  By contrast, Farley only sees those details as launching points & an excuse to stage non-sequitur gags. Just describing the basic plot & background mythology of Slingshot Cops is exhausting, which is an impressive thing to be able to say about a movie that was pieced together over a series of weekends & downtimes by longtime friends & amateur collaborators.

One of the first things that stood out to me in Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, my first Matt Farley experience, is that characters recount the entire plot of the film in-dialogue every few minutes. It’s a maddening commitment to repetition that only became funnier the more it became punishing. Slingshot Cops similarly goes for broke in its own commitment to repetition. Farley’s protagonist repeats variations of the phrase “Alright, I’ll play it your way” to conclude nearly every conversation. An “Eastern European” character declares his vague nationality at every appearance by declaring “I’m Eastern European!” instead of attempting an identifiable accent. Similarly, cupcakes, dogs’ reactions shots, acorns, and phrases like “thrill-seeking preppie” are repeated at such a consistent rhythm that they can’t help but become funny with time. This repetition is also indicative of Motern’s larger appeal. Slingshot Cops is most impressive as a continuation of good-natured, prankish bit Farley & friends have been repeating onscreen for decades, something that only gets funnier the more you see it echoed in each picture. There’s also a familiarity built into that repetition. These New England nobodies become so familiar as you sink into the Motern catalog that they feel like old friends or even, because you can practically watch them grow up in real time, family. All cults self-brand as welcoming, wholesome families, though, and it’s just as likely that this repetition & familiarity hasn’t become funny to me so much as it’s hypnotized me into a receptive, brainwashed state of joyful compliance. This is usually the point in cult indoctrination where the previously unmentioned orgy breaks out or the cult leader demands access to my (non-existent) life’s savings, a hammer I’m expecting to drop any day now. It can’t be true that Farley & crew are this consistently wholesome & dedicated to friendly collaboration on long-term, absurdly silly art projects without being a secretly evil cult. It’s too good to be true otherwise.

-Brandon Ledet

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