Three friends grew up recording their various childish antics until YouTube comes along and gives them an outlet. Several years, and ten million followers later, Scooter follows our three protagonists as they undertake the ‘ultimate’ challenge for the sake of their channel. They must travel 866 miles from Miami to New Orleans on scooters with a top speed of 43 mph. Things quickly go awry when they witness a brutal murder and end up on the wrong side of the law … all while the cameras still roll.
The setup is derivative, yet original. It’s Joy Ride meets You Are Not Alone with a dash of Chronicle. The idea of vloggers getting caught up in ‘found footage’ horror is nothing new. However, director Matthew Wohl manages to weave in a distinctive story, complete with his own unique brand of juvenile slapstick comedy. Encounters with mermaids, and some poor decisions in a convenience store, never quite amount to anything, but do further develop the characters and their varying sensibilities.
Ultimately, the concept is the best thing about Scooter, as the execution often falls flat. That said, the three leads (Dondre Tuck, Stephan Pineda, and Joshua Zimmerman) are mostly believable as a trio of lifelong friends. They’re generally used to being on camera, but they don’t come across as experienced actors. This works as long as the characters are “on” in the sense that they’re playing to the audience within the narrative, but they don’t quite sell the switch when the true terror and “real” reactions begin.
The set pieces and fights are also not sold particularly well. Granted, scene blocking isn’t considered to be as critical in found footage, but filmmakers typically use “poor” blocking to cover up missing vfx or non-existent stunts. Here, however, characters are often shot, or “knocked out” in full frame while the lack of blood squibs and choreographed stunt-work, respectively, becomes painfully obvious. These shortcomings ultimately break the suspension of disbelief too many times over a brief, seventy minute runtime.
It’s too easy to dismiss Scooter as glorifying the antics of privileged white males in contemporary YouTube culture. Wohl’s trio includes both a black and a Latino character, but he’s unfortunately not content to leave the racial commentary as mere subtext. Instead, a blatantly racist turn from Mitch Lemos (Burn Notice) as the corrupt sheriff beats us over the head with parallels to prominent political personas. This ultimately works to the film’s detriment. Still, the mixed-race cast should be appreciated as a way to make the largely unlikeable characters slightly more relatable.
Overall, Scooter manages to retain a fair amount of charm despite its flaws. Granted, I do not expect most viewers to be charmed enough to overlook them. I am, however, hopeful to see more from Wohl. He continues his brand of comedy from his short film, $18, which you can watch on his Vimeo channel, and I have no doubt a slightly larger budget could have transformed Scooter into something really special.
Scooter debuts on September 12, 2019 at the Regal South Beach in Miami, FL, with additional screenings to follow in Winter Park, FL, Brooklyn, NY, and Burlington, VT.
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