Buffalo gets 'Buffaloed' in new movie

Magnolia PicturesJermaine Fowler is Graham, a friend trying to help Zoey Deutch’s Peg face up to her problems in “Buffaloed.”

I’ve seen movies set on Mars that are more in touch with their location than “Buffaloed,” a desperately uneven film centered around debt collecting that purports to be about lower income Buffalonians trying to enjoy the scraps that life has offered them.

One problem with “Buffaloed” is that the screenplay is written by a man who apparently prefers to evade his Western New York roots rather than embrace them. Based on his script, its obvious that writer Brian Sacca hasn't experienced Buffalo in years, especially the so-called “New Buffalo” and its heaping helping of promotional “Buffalove.”

Sacca grew up in Lockport, the son of a successful and respected attorney (his father) and a popular published educator (his mother). Sacca, as of this writing, keeps most of his Buffalo-area roots hidden on Wikipedia and IMDb. On Wikipedia, he only states that he was born in 1978 and graduated from Buffalo’s Nichols School, class of 1997. There is no personal information on IMDb. Screen captures have been made.

Young Brian bolted metro-Buffalo and eventually found work as an actor and awards show staff writer.

His older brother Chris is famous as a venture capitalist and technology advisor, having been an early investor in Twitter, Uber and Kickstarter, among other companies. Chris Sacca, now in his 40s and retired, is also noted for being a substitute shark on television’s “Shark Tank.” He was the hipster-looking bearded fellow, who always wore his signature cowboy shirt. His net worth is reportedly $1.2 billion. On Wikipedia, Chris shares his Lockport and Buffalo beginnings.

One of Brian Sacca’s claims to fame is having a small role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf Of Wall Street.” He clearly didn’t learn much from Scorsese, because his “Buffaloed” comes across as a pale imitation of some of the essential ingredients of Scorsese’s robustly satisfying movie.

In his screenplay, Sacca also dances around some elements from similar numbers-crunching efforts such as “Boiler Room,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “The Big Short,” and “Used Cars,” all better films than “Buffaloed.”

Tanya Wexler, of Chicago, is the director of “Buffaloed,” and she has no clue as to what makes the Buffalo-area interesting, and occasionally unique. Her movie’s theme of a sad sack city is damaged by such misinformed ignorance.

Wexler does have one claim to fame. She’s the niece of Haskell Wexler, one of America’s greatest cinematographers and the director of “Medium Cool,” which is one of the best movies about the counterculture of the 1960s.

In “Buffaloed,” Peg Dahl (acted by an overly frenetic and too old-looking Zoey Deutch) is a hyperactive teenager, who wants to go to an Ivy League university. Her single parent mom Kathy has no money; therefore, to make cash Peg sells counterfeit Buffalo Bills tickets. She gets caught, goes briefly to jail, and returns to society in debt. I’m not sure she’d actually be imprisoned, but you go with it.

Peg’s mother Kathy is also in debt, and they are both hounded by scurrilous debt collectors. The usually reliable Judy Greer plays Kathy as best she can because the directing is weak and her obvious dialogue fails to deliver solid laughs from Sacca’s schizophrenic screenplay. Are we experiencing a drama or a comedy? Stereotypes abound.

Peg then does something off-the-wall. She becomes an employee of the very same disreputable debt collecting agency that wants her money. However, she doesn’t appreciate the way she’s been treated by her sleazy debt-monster boss Wizz, a slightly reigned-in Jai Courtney, who should have been allowed to go truly gonzo, not the less effective gonzo we witness.

Sacca, who also appears as a debt collector, undercuts his story by having Peg start her own debt collecting agency. This entire section is filled with unbelievable developments. She recruits a cadre of unqualified misfits to collect debts, including a phone-sex worker and a street preacher. Of course they have to be nicer and more polite than Wizz’s crew. He’s intensely displeased. Retribution and retaliation come and go, and after a couple of false endings, “Buffaloed” collapses with a thundering thud of phoniness. You can decide for yourself if anyone is truly redeemed.

Buffalo doesn’t look like any Buffalo you’ve ever seen. That’s because the movie was shot in lower income neighborhoods in Toronto where tourists usually don’t venture. Everything really does look Canadian. And, I’d like to know where that quasi-Chinatown area is in Buffalo.

Wexler, and Sacca, who also produced, think that just because they highlight folks wearing Bills gear, a dull running gag about the best Buffalo-style chicken wings, and a laughingly paltry stadium that is nothing like where the Bills play, that they’ve captured the essence of the region and its people. Not a chance. I felt embarrassed for them.

They also show brief footage of grain elevators, an abandoned building or two, the original Anchor Bar, and Buffalo City Hall.

There is one bright spot. A young actor named Jermaine Fowler is Graham, a prosecuting attorney, who becomes enamored with Peg. Fowler wonderfully creates a character that rises above the superficiality of the frantic goings-on. You’re delighted when he’s on-screen. Pay attention to his career.

“Buffaloed” is not only thematically dishonest, it’s also misguided generic filmmaking. Visually, it’s grainy and often downright ugly.

Sacca’s screenplay is like a diseased Dutch elm tree. It can’t be saved.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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