2020 Film Reviews

Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia’

Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia 2020 Movie - Film Review

“This is a city full of culture and different races / Where all the mamis come fully equipped at young ages / With the hurricanes, ’cause even the biggest hurricane couldn’t phase us” — Pitbull, “Welcome to Miami”

Consider Florida: the “Sunshine State,” the land of theme parks and gators and torrential afternoon downpours. The place where a thousand “Florida Man” news stories are born, each one a special mix of bizarre, hilarious and disturbing. The place where the elderly go to spend the remainder of their days, as if having some innate sense that the state is both a paradise-like reward for a life well lived while also being a hellish final destination. If America is slowly nearing a potential apocalypse, Florida acts almost as a preview of coming attractions, a hedonistic and surreal land where the world may have already ended. As real estate mogul Jim Cummings (Mel Rodriguez) explains at the beginning of Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia, the mere fact that the city of Miami was founded at all was borderline insane, being built on a literal swamp that no rational person would think could be tamed, let alone be developed. Later on, Cummings searches for the perfect object to symbolize Miami’s resilience, it’s adventurous spirit and — though he doesn’t articulate this — its tacky idiocy. There is no better choice than a speedboat. 

The filmmakers behind Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia (which is already a contender for best film title of the year) agree with Jim, building an entire anthology movie around said boat, a gaudy vehicle christened “Lay’n Pipe.” Florida and Miami are known to have an aesthetic that borders on the excessive. As such, Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia’s list of filmmakers reads almost like a phone book: Hannah Fidell, Alexa Lim Haas, Lucas Levya, Olivia Lloyd, Jillian Mayer, The Meza Brothers, Terence Nance, Brett Potter, Dylan Redford, Xander Robin, Julian Yuri Rodriguez and Celia Rowlson-Hall. The most well known of the film’s contributors are writer Phil Lord and writers-directors Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), and their involvement is a decent indicator of the movie’s tone based on their previous work in comedy: irreverent, surreal, outrageous and harboring a surprising emotional depth. 

Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia Movie Film

As that directory of directors implies, Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia is made up of short films ranging from around two to 15 minutes each, covering a variety of topics that feature the titular speedboat as the connective tissue. Sometimes the shorts are deliberately comedic (as in the opening segment where the boat falls in love with a truck), sometimes they’re parodic (as with the segment where a repo man attempts to repossess the boat during a reality show) and sometimes they’re horrific (such as the segment where a mysterious creature inhabits the body of Rick Ross). Anyone who’s familiar with the comedy of Tim & Eric or the Adult Swim oeuvre will understand Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia’s unique blend of tones, where the comedy isn’t always about gags and punchlines but is inherent simply through the combination of elements and the seriousness of their presentation. It’s the middle ground between online “shitposting” meme groups and experimental film, where the filmmakers are aware of the audacity of their work yet also lend it a sincerity that makes a two-hour collection of wild, surrealistic shorts watchable.

Not that that runtime doesn’t approach a breaking point, however. Like any experimental work, Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia runs into the problem of beginning to resemble an endurance test at times. This isn’t exactly intentional, as it might be in an art installation or the like, but rather because the sheer number of shorts makes the overall experience a little like zooming over choppy ocean waters: fun and wild at first, but eventually one starts to get a little seasick. Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia also paints itself into a corner structurally, because it doesn’t delineate where each segment begins and ends. While doing so would certainly have had an adverse effect of reminding the audience how long they’ve been watching, the lack of consistency between segments starts to make the film feel aimless. 

Those who choose to abandon ship early, however, will miss out on Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia’s grand mosaic of Miami. The film may seem purposeless at first, but eventually it reveals itself to be a portrait of the proud insanity of Florida, one that feels eminently authentic. As each segment delves deeper into the culture of tanned bodies, celebrities, beaches and locals who attempt to live on a land that seems to constantly attempt to reject them, the film starts to resemble 2018’s Mandy as if it were a Pitbull music video, a descent into a phantasmagoria of slick, neon-soaked apocalypse. Overall, there’s an ecological aspect to Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia that culminates in its final segment, where an eldritch buff dolphin creature (voiced by none other than Robert Redford) offers Jim Cummings a kind of absolution. It presents the film as a parable about human beings attempting to capture and tame that which they don’t respect or understand, realizing too late their inability to force the ending they want. As the movie closes to the strains of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” — a song famous for its urban legend that it’s about a man watching another man drown — it’s eerie, sad, ironic and hilarious. Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia is all of these things and more. It is Florida, it is Miami; we are the boat, the boat is us.

Bill Bria (@billbria) is a writer, actor, songwriter and comedian. ‘Sam & Bill Are Huge,’ his 2017 comedy music album with partner Sam Haft, reached #1 on an Amazon Best Sellers list, and the duo maintains an active YouTube channel and plays regularly all across the country. Bill‘s acting credits include an episode of HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and a featured parts in Netflix’s ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ and CBS’ ‘Instinct.’ His film writing can also be seen at Crooked Marquee as well as his own website. Bill lives in New York City.