The eighties nostalgia is alive and well in Freaky Tales. Directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden have created a high-octane love letter to Oakland through four interlocking stories about the triumph of underdogs. Unfortunately, we’re not breaking new narrative ground here, and the vignettes are too short to make much of an emotional impact.
The film begins with a Star Wars-esque scroll read by narrator Marshawn Lynch explaining the magic of Oakland in the eighties, more specifically a mysterious green light that no one was able to explain. This mysterious light appears across the four stories: a group of punks that stand up to Nazis, an aspiring female rap duo in search of their big break, a hitman on the brink of retirement, and a basketball star seeking vengeance on the men who robbed him. The first two stories are the most fun, with relatively low stakes.
The punks’ story (including Jack Champion and Ji-young Too) is full of high-octane music, zine-like illustrations, and over-the-top gore. The second story is the strongest, where best friends Barbie (Dominique Thorne) and Entice (Normani) get a chance for their duo, Danger Zone, to enter a rap battle against Too Short (playing himself). The two are immediately charming and you instantly root for their success. It also helps that the actual rap battle is so fun that it was sad to see their chapter end.
The back half of the film has the biggest star power but the least engaging plot lines. The third story stars Pedro Pascal as Clint, a muscle-for-hire type looking to leave the business to take care of his pregnant girlfriend. His final job goes sideways and chaos ensues. After iconic roles in The Mandalorian and The Last of Us, Pascal isn’t doing anything new as a gun-for-hire with a heart of gold. The best thing about it is a fun cameo from an A-list star at a video store, but otherwise, it’s unmistakably forgettable. Clint’s story, as well as the first two stories, weave into the fourth and final vignette about Sleepy Floyd (Jay Ellis). Here, the real-life Golden State Warriors player is in an alternate reality where he has the basketball game of his career but returns home to the effects of an armed robbery. He then goes on a killing rampage through the house of a villainous crime lord (Ben Mendelsohn). It’s excessively gruesome and bloody and feels like a homage to Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1 without the effective character build. Based on the circumstances alone it’s easy to root for Sleepy Floyd. But since the audience was just introduced to him, it’s hard to feel like his fight is a big victory. The mysterious green light is a through line for the stories, but it’s never explained so it feels a bit pointless.
Freaky Tales makes some big promises in its first few minutes about being a wild ride. It’s clear that the directors enjoyed making this love letter to Oakland but its focus on style and aesthetics hinders engaging storytelling. We spend so little time with the stacked cast that it’s difficult to be invested in any of them or their outcomes, ultimately showing viewers a wild, but not a memorable, ride..