This Canadian odyssey (and oddity) could join the pantheon of kitsch classics if it ever finds its audience
A reviewer’s comment on the cover sleeve of Ryan’s Babe, a flick with an elastic timeline and a cipher of a protagonist, draws comparisons with Tommy Wiseau’s cult kitsch disasterpiece The Room.
And yes, everything in this movie does revolve around Ryan, the college-aged main character in this up-until-recently lost Canadian production. The liner notes of the DVD say that the movie was broadcast infrequently on TV and that a promo copy of the film was rescued from the trash bin by Videonomicon Releasing’s Tyler Baptist, resulting in it being available for folks today on DVD.
Much like Wiseau’s character Johnny, if a scene in Ryan’s Babe doesn’t have Canadian everyman Ryan (Bill LaVasseur) in it, then it has to be about what Ryan’s doing, what characters have heard about what Ryan’s doing, what they hope Ryan’s doing or whether Ryan’s OK while he’s doing what he’s doing.
Truth be told, he doesn’t do MUCH until the very end (unless you count the multiple scenes of him using the bathroom and how he uses that excuse to escape from some criminals) — a bunch of things basically happen to Ryan throughout this 88-minute misadventure. He gets carjacked by a hitchhiker and embroiled in a murder case; he gets threatened by a shunned girl’s dad; he gets kidnapped and held by a crime lord because he’s mistaken for another crime lord’s son; he’s kidnapped again by a group of cheerleaders who thinks he’s a rapist; he gets dumped in Phoenix, Ariz.; he befriends an escort … and more. There hasn’t been a main character this passive since Peter Sellers’ Chance the Gardener in Being There, yet this important in the grand scheme of the flick. (Yes, Being There is technically indoor bullstuff, but sometime you gotta go there).
But people expecting the infectious meme-able quotability of the Wiseau flick implied by the comparisons to The Room on the flick’s cover won’t get that. Ryan doesn’t rant about betrayal by his love, greet a dog randomly or toss a football in a tux. The histrionics mostly are reserved for the titular character — Connie (Alix Hitchings). She gets into arguments and screaming matches about Ryan, the fount of her unrequited love, tries to commit suicide, pines over him until her beau receives a vision at the Grand Canyon that they were meant to be and decides to make his way back home.
Meanwhile, Ryan is just a really fortunate fellow, good looking, able to get a job at the drop of the hat with no background check. He has his life endangered, bounces around the continent, wins the lottery and, as John Grant sings, remains the GMF in the world of this flick. Weird stuff happens to him in episodic fashion with Ryan bouncing around like a pinball. None of it makes a lick of sense from a narrative structure or chronological perspective. We just know that somehow he’s going to make it through with a shrug and a smile.
Ryan’s Babe is chock-full of non-sequiturs, bizarre cinematography and uneven acting. After one watch, the viewer might shut it off disappointed that it should have had more action, more comedy, better performances or a coherent plot. It’s not a rollicking 1980s road comedy of errors as the DVD cover art suggests. Aspiring filmmakers might watch and think that what they have in mind could kick writer-director Ray Ramayya, Ph.D’s film’s ass, giving them hope of transcending Ryan’s Babe’s flaws. There’s crummy dubbing, especially for Connie’s dad (Peter Kooy); random characters; dropped plotlines and excessive monologues by ancillary characters.
However, this movie also is one that a certain segment of the movie-watching population — the ones who can quote The Room, know what The Miami Connectionis about and have the time and energy to pretzel in all sorts of interpretations with friends about what the filmmakers really meant, serious or not — might embrace as a personal classic.
Under the right influences, those particular viewers know that one watch isn’t enough to really drill down and reflect on the deep underlying connections that Ryan’s Babe might have to Homer’s Odyssey, Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain or The Big Lebowski. And, at least for this reviewer, at the end of the movie when LaVasseur gives one last charming, goofy smile before the cut to black, Ryan abides.
Reviewer’s Note: Not much blood at all. You definitely are not going to see this one on Shudder. A couple of dead bodies. There’s a mobster shootout and the threat of amputation, but nothing rolls.
- Best Reflection of the Reality of Having a Bladder: Nature calls often as there are at least three scenes of characters going potty.
- Best What in the Absolute Hell: The one guard, Shakespeare, played by Chad Waughtal, absolutely gnaws every scene he is in. Bless him for selling what he was given and for carrying a big gun while he was doing it.
- Best Representation of Stunt Work: The scene where Ryan and two other random dudes perform a striptease in Vegas at a bridal shower, including one interpretive kung-fu breakdancing interlude, complete with chop-socky dialogue, one male disco striptease and Ryan stripping down to a cowboy hat and Canadian maple leaf boxers.
- Best Gas Mileage: The beater cars Ryan operates. But he unwisely trades his high-powered Dodge Omni (they do about 20.45 seconds in the quarter-mile) for a Chevy Cavalier that would get worse mileage. The Cavalier also happens to be stolen and the object of national APB broadcast over Canadian radio.
- Best Use of Gallifreyan Time Loop Technology: The movie opens and then a few minutes in there’s a flashback to when Ryan is in college and then there’s a flashback to when he and Connie were kids in that flashback and then we’re back in the present day and it takes a while to get back where the movie started. Also, after getting kidnapped by the vengeful cheerleaders, Ryan was knocked out for however long it takes to drive from Canada to Phoenix.
- Best Way to Save on the Effects Budget: Rather than have an action scene, a bystander tells Ryan that Sam’s ex burst into her apartment, took her and her child hostage and then he got shot by police: “She’s traumatized and horrified. They had to sedate her.” Ryan goes to the hospital, Sam’s not sedate and some of the first words out of her mouth are: “I’m OK.”
- Best Way to Add Running Time: Multiple cinematic interludes of traffic signs. I mean a lot.
- Best Hallucination: Mrs. Teasman mistakes Ryan for her dead quarterback husband, gets him to come back to her room, talks about the love he had for her husband and then dies overnight, but not before inspiring Ryan to return home to Connie for reals this time.
Much like The Room, or Blood Sucking Freaks, or Plan 9 From Outer Space, there’s an audience out there for this flick that will like it for what it is, what it shows and how it’s presented. They just need to find it.
Three and a half stars. It’s something else.
Ryan’s Babe is most affordably available directly from distributor Videonomicon on DVD and it doesn’t appear that it’s streaming anywhere, so you’ve got pretty much one place to catch this unicorn. Check it out.