Review: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break | SXSW 2021

Score:  C-

Director:  Nick Gillespie

Cast:  Tom Meeten, Katherine Perkinson, Kris Marshall

Running Time:  95 Minutes

Rated:  NR

It's been a long time since I've seen a movie as misguided and emotionally confused as Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break. A would-be dark comedy that's a little grim and rarely funny, it kicks off SXSW on the wrong foot.

Tom Meeten stars as Paul, an aspiring singer and dancer who still lives with his mother (June Watson). His dream is to audition for an internet talent show and share his passion with the world. But when the day arrives sooner than he expected, it's one disaster after another as he tries to make his way to the venue. The day ends in tragic fashion, with the mild-mannered Paul vowing revenge on everyone who got in his path.

The second half of the film is devoted to his bumbling efforts at vengeance. There are some particularly nasty deaths, but part of the joke is that Paul is never actually the one doing the killing. Ironically, his livestream of his day of reckoning becomes the most widely viewed video in social media history. But including this reveals a complete lack of taste on the part of the filmmakers. It was just two years ago that an actual madman live-streamed his massacre at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Whether or not the writers had this idea prior to that, it's disturbing to leave it in now, especially when it's meant to be played for laughs.

This isn't to say that terrorism or would-be terrorism can't be mined for humor. The British comedy Four Lions (2010) pulled this tricky act off beautifully. But part of the reason the film fails is it assumes that putting a good-natured doofus like Paul in a violent situation is comic gold. A man in a sequined catsuit wielding a samurai sword could be funny, but just showing the image isn't enough. Meeten isn't the magnetic presence needed to make it work. Merely being a decent guy in a world full of jerks isn't enough to make us root for him. The movie wants to be a Day-Glo Joker but it falls flat on its face.

Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break has a handful of funny moments and a killer '80s soundtrack. But that's not enough to overcome its tasteless second act and its weak attempts at satire and pathos.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.