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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Listening movie review: plug your ears

Listening red light

Naive, hamfisted, and amateurish indie sci-fi… but as hilarious as the clumsy, clichéd execution is, it still isn’t even worth it for the laughs.
I’m “biast” (pro): big sci-fi fan

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen. Oh, the premise potentially has promise — two grad students invent a mind-reading, thought-transmitting device in their garage — but the execution is, well… One word for it is naive. Another word: hamfisted. One more word : amateurish.

First-time writer-director Khalil Sullins appears to have little understanding of how to construct a plausible story, and his problems have nothing to do with his sci-fi ideas — even as out-there as the ones here are — and everything to do with crafting likable characters and not requiring them to behave in idiotic ways in order to push along an absurd plot. (Spoiler: if Sullins is able to do that, he doesn’t bother here.) David (Thomas Stroppel) and Ryan (Artie Ahr), who are the most Abercrombie-underwear-model-looking “scientists” ever, have been stealing equipment from their university for the project, which isn’t justified in any way by the story and is probably the stupidest thing these supposedly smart guys could have done. David particularly is someone we are meant to get deeply invested in to the point of– oh, you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you how important he ends up being.

Another stupidest thing is David and Ryan taking on Jordan (Amber Marie Bollinger) as an assistant. She happens to be smokin’ hot and is an absolutely genius, and there is a complete lack of irony in how the guys completely fail to recognize that she clearly has some ulterior motives in slinking around their lab in her short-shorts and tight-tank-topping her boobs at them. If Sullins understood that sometimes a like-to-hate-able character can be a positive thing, he misses that opportunity with Jordan; she is simply a straight-up sexy lady scientist using her feminine wiles to ensnare and trip up innocent men, because what else are lady scientists for? That’s just natural. She should be a villain here, and even that would have been risible, but she also ends up being someone we’re supposed to care about even though we’re given no reason to do so.

After a few truly hilarious elements are thrown at us — including one Very Serious turn of events that is meant to be solemn but at which I could not stop snickering, it’s so clumsy and clichéd — the film attempts to cram in so much more story that a well-considered, well-written, well-acted ten-hour miniseries would grapple with how best to pull it off. Imagine if, right after Ben Kenobi told Luke, “You must learn the ways of the Force, if you’re to come with me to Alderaan,” the next scene jumped to Luke saying, “Well, now I’m a fully trained Jedi.” That’s the sort of leap Listening expects us to take, but even the laugh that evokes does not make this dumb movie worth your while.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Listening for its representation of girls and women.


red light half a star

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Listening (2015)
US/Can release: Sep 11 2015 (VOD same day)

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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