Though it has a seed of an interesting story, Ryan Kruger’s sci-fi comedy something or other would rather just overwhelm the viewer’s senses.
There’s something both modern and curiously quaint about Fried Barry. It’s very slick and glossy looking (while also still dark and grimy at the same time), but its dedication to pushing the envelope with graphic sex and violence feels like a product of the 90s, when indie filmmakers were all trying to become the next Tarantino. Fried Barry tries for a lot of things–science fiction, comedy, body horror, etc.–while also assaulting the viewer’s senses with a throbbing electro soundtrack and frenetic imagery. The primary reason it works (mostly) is its star, who adds some unexpected humanity to a thoroughly loathsome character.
Barry (Gary Green) seems to be alive strictly out of spite. A withered husk of a man, Barry is a heroin addict, bouncing back and forth between the streets of Cape Town, South Africa, and the home he shares with his long-suffering wife, Suz (Bianka Hartenstein). When Barry is abducted by a UFO and either possessed or replaced by an alien, it turns out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to him, because his alien counterpart, while still being pretty awful, is a much better human than he could ever be.
Much of the humor in Fried Barry comes from alien Barry wandering around in a befuddled daze, like someone who’s suffered a recent head injury. I don’t know much about Cape Town, but refuse to believe that it’s as awful as it’s portrayed here, a lawless hellscape where the local economy seems to be based predominantly in prostitution, and people are stabbed to death in the street in broad daylight. In keeping with such a terrible place, the people are terrible too. Barry is forced to take drugs, assaulted, treated as a human dildo by women (all of whom inexplicably find him irresistible), and later kidnapped and tortured by a chainsaw-wielding pedophile.
That humor is soured when Barry occasionally gives as good as he gets, such as assaulting a man who offers him oral sex in a nightclub bathroom. Not just a lazy, tiresome attempt at pushing the envelope, it contradicts the idea that alien Barry is a sort of R rated babe in the woods. He doesn’t know how to communicate with humans, and can’t sense danger until it’s almost too late, yet he somehow also recognizes when a man is making a pass at him, and reacts with violence, much like human Barry probably would. It’s far from the only meant to be edgy moment in Fried Barry, but perhaps the one that most indicates that writer-director Ryan Kruger was more interested in getting a rise out of his audience than actually saying anything worthwhile.
I’m not sure how one reviews a movie like Fried Barry. I didn’t enjoy it, but I don’t know if I was supposed to. It’s an interesting movie, not unlike The Man Who Fell to Earth, but much louder and more colorful. Despite its dedication to grotesque imagery, like a grown man breastfeeding or someone shitting on a floor, I wasn’t particularly offended by it. If anything, it’s perplexing: what is this about, exactly? Is it about alien Barry learning how to be human, and in turn helping Barry himself to become a better person? Since there’s no indication that human Barry knows anything about what’s happening while alien Barry is walking around pretending to be him, that’s not entirely clear.
The primary reason it works (mostly) is its star, who adds some unexpected humanity to a thoroughly loathsome character.
Anyhow, the notion that alien Barry is a better person than human Barry gets a bit lost when you consider that there are almost no decent characters in the movie. Even Suz, who’s ostensibly the sole person who can offer Barry any sense of real love and stability, leaves their preschool age son alone so that she can have noisy daytime sex with Barry, but not before gleefully waving a condom at the kid. With this, Kruger seems to be taking a page from the John Waters school of “the crudeness is the point,” but that still doesn’t make it any clearer as to what the takeaway from Fried Barry is supposed to be.
Luckily, Kruger has Gary Green as his protagonist. Making his feature acting debut after mostly doing stunt work, Green does a remarkable thing: rendering a repugnant, one-dimensional character fascinating enough to sit through a ninety minute long movie about him. With very little dialogue, Green does most of his acting with his face and body, and is absolutely believable as someone who’s just recently put on a human suit and doesn’t quite know how to wear it yet. A whole, perfectly good movie could have been made just about that, and alien Barry struggling to appear “normal,” without the extraneous sex and violence. Instead, Green’s performance ends up being the sole highlight of a loud, over the top mess.
Fried Barry premieres on Shudder May 7th.