Things don’t go entirely to plan when Mike buys a beaten-up car to impress girl-next-door Kelsey

First Date

Source: Sundance Institute

‘First Date’

Dirs/scr: Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp. US. 2020. 99 mins

When high school student Mike (Tyson Brown) buys a beaten-up 1965 Chrysler in order to have some means of picking up girl-next-door Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) for their first date, he gets more than a ramshackle set of wheels. The car comes with a secret cargo. And there are plenty of dangerous (and dangerously stupid) people looking for it. Hapless Mike just wants to get to his date, but the mounting body count is an ever-growing obstacle. So far, so formulaic. But while this lively crime comedy doesn’t exactly break new ground, it does, in the form of an appealingly naive central performance from Brown, have a disarming, sweet-natured charm at its heart.

The film is propulsive in the way that a stray bullet is propulsive

The first feature from Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, First Date nods to a whole raft of films which take botched crimes and inept criminals as their jumping-off point for plots which rapidly spiral out of control. There are tonal similarities with Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope – both plunge their geeky, good-kid protagonists into a world filled with very bad people. First Date, however, was clearly made on a markedly smaller budget than that of Famuyiwa’s picture, a fact which may limit its crossover potential. While likely to be a scrappy contender on the festival circuit, it could also prove to be attractive to streaming platforms in the market for a breezily chaotic caper which will likely connect best with younger audiences.

Mike’s ordeal begins when, coerced by his domineering best friend, he plucks up the courage to call Kelsey. He fumbles through the conversation but she saves him the agony of asking for a date by casually suggesting that they hang out later. Mike is close to blowing off the date when he realises that his BMX bike is not going to cut it as a set of wheels. An opportunity presents itself: a hustler called Denis, who lives in a house full of cats, has a car for sale. The selling point for Mike is the stereo – an 8-track cassette player. He hopes it will impress dumpster-diving retro tech fan Kelsey, who recently pulled an 8-track and a VHS player out of a bin.

A run-in with a pair of cops delays Mike, as does the discovery that the glove compartment is stuffed with jewellery. But it’s not the bling which has brought Mike to the attention of a gang of interchangeable shouty thugs – the real attraction of his unprepossessing new car is the fact that the capacious bodywork is crammed full of drugs.

As the number of interested parties increases, so does the violence, and the picture’s thunderous climax employs a Free Fire-style shootout in a warehouse as a means to dispose of all but the essential characters. But as the bullets fly, and yet another chance encounter interrupts Mike and Kelsey’s eventful date, Mike gets a chance to prove his mettle.

It’s fair to say that First Date is propulsive in the way that a stray bullet is propulsive – there’s a pinballing randomness to the plotting which leans a little heavily on coincidences and is prone to ping off in unexpected directions. While this can feel rather messy, it’s in these left-field tangents and eccentric details that much of the comedy is found – one character’s convoluted anecdote about burritos, mustard and a ‘homeless guy’, for example.

Production company: Cinexus pictures

International Sales: Visit Films

Producers: Brandon Kraus, Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp, Lucky McKee, Charles Horak

Editing: Zach Passero, Manuel Crosby

Cinematography: Manuel Crosby

Music: Noah Lowdermilk, Kevin Kentera, Manuel Crosby

Main cast: Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen, Nicole Berry, Ryan Quinn Adams, Brandon Kraus