Life in a small town can be difficult. People always want to leave for the big city, but at the same time the change in lifestyle and surroundings can prove to be difficult. For Eve Stuckley (Marla Sokoloff), an aspiring artist who's working as a waitress at the local Hog-Chow diner (a place she's inherited from her dead mother and father), life couldn't be further from perfect. She's been in love with the town hunk Jeff Sweeney (Barry Watson) for years but has never had the courage to approach him and tell him how she truly feels. It doesn't help that her older brother Chuck (Jonathan Cherry) is Jeff's best friend, which adds an awkward element to the whole situation. Eve's best friend comes in the form of Alma Kerns (Jennifer Tilly), a fellow waitress and a self-proclaimed sex expert who's currently shacking up with Red Bishop (Dave Thomas), the town's mortician, who has a passion for sex acts that aren't quite mainstream. Just as Alma finally convinces Eve to go for her man, a stranger by the name of Linda (Monika Schnarre) shows up in town on the hottest day of the year. Of course, Jeff immediately takes an interest in Linda as does Chuck, and the two begin to battle it out for her affections. The only snag in their plan? Linda wants nothing to do with the both of them and prefers hanging out and getting to know Eve, and not in a "friendly" way. Not sure what to do, Eve turns to Alma, who explains to her how to use Linda's attention to win Jeff's heart. However, the situation becomes even more complex when Linda advises young Jeff that it's Eve that holds the key to her heart. Will Eve end up with Jeff or Linda, and just what is Linda's reason for being in Squamish? Find out as she serves up this Deluxe Combo Platter.
Deluxe Combo Platter is an interesting Canadian film in that it really doesn't fit the typical mold of what a Canadian independent film is. For one thing, the cast is made up of a number of talented Americans and Canadians, and it's not really attempting to copy or mimic any recent successful American film. Instead, it feels very much like a small independent film that while set in small town British Columbia, could have just as easily been set pretty much anywhere else. The story that is told is familiar to anyone who lives in a small town here, there, or pretty much anywhere. The themes the film covers are universal in scope and appeal, and the Canadian elements of the film are not overly emphasized with a number of stereotypical Canadian jokes. Instead, they are used sparingly to enhance the story and give it just a bit of a Canadian spin.
Sitting down in the theater before the screening, I didn't really know what to expect out of the film, as although I had the media notes for the film from the distributor I hadn't had a chance to go over them. As the film began to unspool, I was thrust into this sort of small town community where everyone knew everyone else, the girl loved the boy, and the boy loved the girl but didn't quite know it yet. Immediately the film began to become familiar, as it brought back certain memories from other similar stories like Varsity Blues, though this time with a restaurant replacing football. However, where this film differs is its sort of quirky, often cute, and wacky sense of humour. Director Vic Sarin (Left Behind) takes things in a much-needed different direction, which makes the film's first hour appear to unfold at breakneck speed before hitting a lull that causes the last 30 minutes of the film to take a decidedly different and less interesting direction. Written by first timer Bridgitte Talveski with no previous film experience, the film has a number of interesting and different characters that break away from the traditional Hollywood norm. The screenplay is pretty sharp and has many very comical moments, including a scene where Linda has been embarrassed at a dance and runs back to the diner to meet up with Eve's Cousin Vic (the Chef), who instantly knows what occurred because he "has a cell phone". Talveski's screenplay and Sarin's direction leads the film in the right direction for the majority of its scarce 90-minute running time. The only problem is that once the film heads into the home stretch, the drastic shift in tone and plot lessens the impact of the earlier scenes and in this case, left the viewer with a sour taste in the mouth. All of a sudden the movie changes focus and becomes less believable, as all new plot elements are brought up and the story comes to a predictable Hollywood end.
One of the biggest plusses surrounding Deluxe Combo Platter is the fact that it's got an international cast and is not solely made up of no-name actors who Canadians may recognize but bring no star power and selling experience to the film. Instead, we have a couple homegrown actors as well as some strong actors from south of the border. In the lead role of Eve Stuckley we have Marla Sokoloff, probably best known to the viewing public from her role on the TV series The Practice and from a role in the teen romantic comedy Whatever it Takes. Here, Sokoloff is given a fairly well-developed character to breath life into and the result, while not Oscar worthy, is certainly more than acceptable. Playing the man of Eve's dreams is 7th Heaven's Barry Watson, who despite the less than stellar writing afforded to his character, gives more than a two-note performance. Canadian actress Monika Schnarre has the decidedly yummy role of Linda, and it's no surprise that all the guys in the film flock to her gorgeous blonde hair and long legs. Schnarre's performance is adequate, though when she tries to handle the more emotional moments she doesn't seem as comfortable as some of the other members of the cast. While the younger members of the cast are above average for this type of feature, the real scene stealers of the piece come in the form of nasally-voiced Jennifer Tilly, and Dave Thomas, fresh off directing Intern Academy, a Canadian comedy I liked but has failed to ignite any flames at the box office. Both Tilly and Thomas give completely over-the-top performances, which account for many of the film's best moments. Although both have made some dreadful career choices, like Tilly's appearance as a talking head in Disney's The Haunted Mansion, this film shows that both of them are still viable comedic talents.
Deluxe Combo Platter isn't a great movie, but it's not a bad one either. It's taken what could have just as easily been a formulaic and boring romantic comedy about a girl and a guy in a small town and put a new contemporary spin on it. Although I don't agree with the last half hour of the movie or some of the musical choices, this is clearly a smaller movie that hopes to make a few dollars theatrically before settling into the DVD and VHS market. It's generally well-acted and a mostly pleasant way of passing 90 minutes. It's not overly ambitious and the film does know its limitations. Perhaps if the last 30 or so minutes were tightened up and the story remained more on track, then it would be a much better movie. Still, it's a little film that's neither great nor awful. Despite some major problems near the end and a few subplots that seemingly go nowhere or are forgotten, this is an enjoyable meal for at least part of the time. Not the best thing I've seen all year but certainly not the worst. It's the kind of thing I wouldn't turn off the TV, or might pick up at the video store, but not really something I'd rush out to see in a theater, especially considering the price of a movie ticket these days.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.