"Moose: The Movie" is well worth the drive to Wasilla. The feature-length, locally made film created by Tundra cartoonist Chad Carpenter and about half the Mat-Su population is bright, fast-paced, well produced, utterly entertaining and very amusing. Think "Whale Fat Follies" meets "Scrubs."
The show opens with the wise, soft voice of a Native elder (Pius Savage) recalling a legend about an unkillable beast with the head of a moose and the body of a man that was trapped in the underworld in ancient times and held there by a totem.
That works until idiot paintballers on a camping trip find the remnants of the totem and use it for firewood. Its destruction causes the Moosetaur (Roy Eason) to return and wreak havoc on mortals in the vicinity of Gangrene Gulch, "The Flannel Capital of the World"( actually the historic buildings on the grounds of the Wasilla Museum).
Enter park ranger Zack del Pollo (Zack Lanphier), a newcomer who recoils at almost everything he sees -- not without reason -- and is convinced that everyone in town is crazy; the kid wearing a tin hat who thinks Zack's an alien (snarkily played by Samuel Allred), the kitten-loving narcoleptic receptionist (Patty Taylor), mimes from a nearby mime academy flocking to Gangrene Gulch for spring break, the guy manipulating puppets to wait tables and cook grub at the Grease Trap Cafe, where the Heimlich maneuver is included on the menu and the bug zapper delivers a constant shower of flying insects and larger critters on the food being served.
The one sane person is the beautiful assistant coroner and librarian, Samantha (Chantel Grover). As the Moosetaur's victims mount up, she and Zack team up to destroy the menace in a wild, screaming, panicked climax featuring two squirrelly squirrel hunters (Wayne and Shane Mitchell) that concludes with a pop that I didn't see coming, though it should have been obvious to any Alaskan.
Several things make "Moose" perhaps the most entertaining made-in-Alaska film I've seen. The production values are quite high and the surreal depictions of Mat-Su scenery by photography director Michael James Heath are simply magnificent. The acting is completely effective; granted, no one has to dig deep to present their characters, which are mostly caricatures. But with direction and editing by G. Logan Dellinger, everyone pulls off their bits splendidly.
Lanphier, particularly, had no previous acting experience. Others in the cast who have shined in local stage productions admirably transferred their skills to the big screen. These include Grover, Dave Nufer as Zack's go-along-get-along boss, A.J. Seims as the wild "mountain pirate," Cynthia Lee as chain-smoking, flirtatious Mrs. Stimple (whose couch-potato son, played by Calvin Anderson, is beheaded by the beast while walking the dog), Tom Gammill as a failed author who has spent too much time in his cabin doing research, and Joseph Le Compte in the dual roles of a psychopathic redneck and his blitzed-out hippy brother (or cousin or something; it's a small town).
The humor is "Tundra"-level silly, but it's stupid in a brainy way. Many of the jokes are visual. The set revels in product placements for "Tundra" T-shirts, calendars and cups and even for Lanphier's Bleeding Heart Brewery. The paintballers have brought an incongruous toilet plunger with them to their camp. The squirrel hunters have another one in their outhouse. Zack finds a book called "Talking to Women for Dummies." The Grease Trap's back room is packed with cases marked "herring entrails," "walrus sauce," "badger lard" and "outdated mayonnaise" ("free recipes inside!"). The town mayor is a chicken. The library has a section on "duct tape crafts." A television set has tin foil attached to the rabbit ears in a way that looks like moose antlers.
With every cut there was something new and unexpectedly funny to snag one's attention. When the DVD comes out later this year, it will be worth going through it frame by frame to see what I missed.
The film manages to be family-friendly, with no bad language or nudity. Even the victims were usually shown as simply a dismembered limb and the Moosetaur's violence was never explicitly graphic.
A few spots hint at the low budget (about $100,000) of the production, but the show has unity, a real ending and is something of a miracle of volunteerism, a triumph of Mat-Su enthusiasm. Speaking to the crowd at the preview on April 23, Carpenter called it "a movie that's made by a community."
The Alaska-themed "Tundra" has been a hit on comic book pages around the world. I'm not sure whether the same kind of humor will be similarly successful in movie form, whether the gags that had Alaskans gleefully yelping at the preview will amuse Outside audiences. It is what it is, after all, a spoof on bad horror flicks. No one can call it great cinema, an epic script or profound acting.
But none of that will matter to anyone who's lived in Alaska. For us, "Moose" is about as good as a movie can get.
MOOSE: THE MOVIE will be shown at Valley Cinema in Wasilla, 3331 E. Old Matanuska Road. Take the Parks Highway to Seward Meridian Road, turn south and go past the Walmart. Showtimes are noon, 3, 6 and 9 p.m. daily.