The primary creative force behind Lady Magdalene’s, J. Neil Schulman, may be somewhat of a successful novelist, but he cannot in good conscience add filmmaking to his list of credentials. While Schulman wants you to believe that Lady Magdalene’s is a smart action-comedy satirising today’s post-9/11 climate, the resulting picture is an agonising catastrophe; a 2-hour black hole of tedium from which absolutely no joy can escape. This is not a case of “so bad it’s good” like Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Room – rather, Schulman’s movie is so bad that it’s just really, really bad. As of December 2011, Lady Magdalene’s has not been picked up for major distribution. The closest thing to distribution that Schulman could manage was endorsement from a shady meal supplement company and uploading the rancid movie to YouTube. If that’s not a red flag about the movie’s quality, I don’t know what is.
After IRS agent Jack Goldwater (Keogh) is humiliated when he tries to detain a suspicious-looking Arab-American on an airplane, he’s relieved of his Federal Air Marshal duties and busted down to an embarrassing desk job. Jack’s assignment is to take control of a Nevada brothel run by Lady Magdalene, a.k.a. Maggie (Nichols). As Jack begins to settle in, one of the prostitutes is murdered, triggering an investigation. The murder raises suspicion with Jack in particular, who soon finds out that it may be tied to a larger terrorist threat to the entire nation.
The technical shortcomings of Lady Magdalene’s stick out the most – a sense of amateurism hangs over this frequently ugly-looking film. (Though perhaps “amateurish” is a bit too…flattering. YouTube filmmakers have done far better than this). Cinematographer Scott MacDonald should never be allowed to work again – various shots throughout the film are too overexposed, blending skin tones with rocks or walls. The camera is often shaky as well for no rhyme or reason, while the framing reveals that the camera operators must have an exceedingly poor grasp of such essential principles as headroom and looking room. Not to mention, it seems the filmmakers failed to realise that abrupt zooms look incredibly unprofessional. There’s absolutely no style or sense of visual flair here. The action is meant to be exciting, yet even parody movies like Hot Shots! have better action. The comedy is meant to be funny, but the flick is obnoxiously laughless. And forget about it being “sexy”…
Lady Magdalene’s was apparently produced for $500,000, but you wouldn’t know it considering the drab colour scheme and incompetent special effects. The green screening and digital superimposing is notoriously bad, especially during driving scenes (for fuck’s sake, rear projection techniques in the ’50s look positively immaculate compared to the green screening here). Compounding this, editing is often harsh and jarring, while the sound mixing is pure amateur hour (for instance, ringtones were not properly integrated into the environment; they sound like a piece of the score added in post). Speaking of the soundtrack, the music is often overbearing, grating and inappropriate; Daniel May’s compositions would be better suited for a fucking elevator. Of course, technically inferior films can still be entertaining, but Schulman has provided absolutely nothing as compensation for his shoddy filmmaking. Lady Magdalene’s is poorly-paced, and Schulman has absolutely no understanding of comic timing. Admittedly, a few moments have comedic potential, but the delivery is way off (the James Bond references are cringe-worthy). For the most part, the dialogue is tin-eared as well. Nothing ever engages you at any point during the picture’s unbearably prolonged 120-minute runtime.
J. Neil Schulman is simply not an overly talented director. The main problem with Lady Magdalene’s is the lack of authority which pervades the picture. In great films like The Godfather, every frame feels puppeteered by a director completely in control of his movie. In Lady Magdalene’s, scenes routinely unfold in an undisciplined manner, as if Schulman filmed a single take of every slate because he didn’t feel comfortable giving his performers strong direction. Schulman’s staging and mise-en-scène is often poor as well – take, for example, a fight in a brothel which literally looks as if Schulman filmed a lackadaisical first rehearsal and called it a day. Fucking hell, even firearm techniques are lax, with performers wandering around half-heartedly brandishing their guns even though their characters are meant to be professionals. Exacerbating this is a facepalm-inducing instance of product placement; a character is at one stage seen reading director Schulman’s own book Escape from Heaven. The sense of narcissism is overpowering. We get it, Neil: you love yourself.
In amidst all of this is a cast one can’t help but pity. Former Star Trek regular Nichelle Nichols is the most seasoned and professional actor in the cast, but she overdid her performance as the titular Lady Magdalene, and it looks like she’s mugging the camera. Ethan Keogh and Mark Gilvary are the only ones who show a degree of potential here, with Keogh emitting genuine charm and Gilvary scoring the only laughs in the entire picture (one of which is an outtake, mind you). These two aren’t perfect, though – Keogh seems genuinely bored a fair bit and his comedic delivery is flat, while Gilvary’s performance is in dire need of discipline (he rambles at times). The rest of the actors range from unbelievably bad to merely serviceable. Even writer-director Schulman himself waddles into the frame to play a role, placing forth a performance dripping with unearned egotism and repulsive overconfidence. Schulman spouted his lines with a knowing wink as if to imply that he believed his writing was the pinnacle of excellence.
Somewhere inside Lady Magdalene’s is a promising idea for an action-comedy, but the potential is utterly wasted in the hands of J. Neil Schulman. The script is slipshod, the cinematic techniques bring shame to the term “cinematic technique”, and the actors often look bored out of their minds. Great films put us under a spell and engage our attention, but during Lady Magdalene’s you’ll be left struggling to accept the poor filmmaking and desperately trying to endure the awfulness with your sanity in tact. And then, just when you think it’s over (and fucking hope it’s over for the sake of your wellbeing) there’s an entirely superfluous 20-minute end credit reel consisting of a few music videos (I think?), outtakes (again, I think?), and maybe some deleted scenes or something? All of this malarkey only serves to prolong the agonising experience of Lady Magdalene’s and remind you that you have just wasted precious hours of your life you will never get back. I’d rather do time in Guantanamo Bay than watch this travesty again. Don’t quit your day job, Neil.