The strangest thing about director Benedict Sparrow’s new straight-to-DVD film Trial Run is the fact it was ever produced at all.
The source material (an unpublished novel of the same name allegedly written by Sparrow himself under the pseudonym Mickey Green) is, according to the few people who have read it, a far from riveting read. Nevertheless, there is (so I’ve been assured) a stringent and fascinating philosophical undercurrent to the novel, a quality which has so far saved it – by the skin of its reportedly blunt and un-kissably crooked teeth – from a complete and utter slamming by the critics.
Sparrow’s film version cannot boast even this minor saving grace.
Truly this film is terrible in just about every way, except for one – at just one-hour and seventeen-minutes, it is a remarkably short piece of work, a fact made even more remarkable by the epic span of the film’s frankly absurd and pretentious plot.
The story follows Miriam Broadway, an attractive American woman inexplicably living in a small sea-side town on the south coast of England. In the first part of the film we see Miriam, who has recently dropped out of university (already it is unconvincing: Miriam is supposed to be nineteen, but the actress, Cicely Weston, is clearly in her mid-thirties), and try – unsuccessfully – to carve out a life for herself.
Although finding work is easy for Miriam (due to her allegedly good looks and superficial charm), she can’t seem to hold a job down for more than a few weeks. Every time it looks like she has finally found a permanent career – stewardess, jockey, business analyst – she makes a mistake that either gets her fired or else causes her to leave voluntarily, through embarrassment at whatever terrible and unlikely thing she has done.
For example, in one badly paced scene, Miriam accidentally turns up to work an hour early and is surprised to find the office’s main door locked. Already preoccupied with thoughts of a presentation she had been up working on all night (a sure-fire contender in the Most Drudgingly Mundane Montage Scene in an Altogether Pointless Film category at next year’s awards), Miriam unthinkingly breaks into the office, using one of her stiletto heels to smash the door’s glass panel. When her boss turns up just moments later, the security chief (played by a bored looking Shatner-alike, or possibly Shatner himself) in tow, Miriam falls suggestively to her knees and starts apologising profusely.
It turns out the boss is willing to forgive her, and not in return for any ‘special favours’ either. Yet Miriam, overcome with guilt, refuses to accept his forgiveness and half runs, half stumbles out of the office and back to her cramped bedsit where sobbing, she gives her presentation, in all it’s power-pointed glory, through a veil of lonely tears, for the benefit of no-one.
At this point I should mention that this film is, according to the press-release, a comedy. Only reading this afterwards, the fact came as a surprise to me as not once during this short yet incredibly gruelling story can I recall considering for even a nano-second the possibility of laughing. (Actually, the press release itself is a fascinating text, a tour de force of cynical, misguided and ultimately unsuccessful marketing-come-artistic-vision-gone-awry, and bears even less resemblance to the film than the film does to its source material… but that’s another story.)
About half way through we find out that Ronan, one of Miriam’s ex-boyfriends (as with the jobs, we see her rattle through a number of doomed relationships), is a brilliant physicist, part of a team working on what his character calls ‘psycho-temporal regression’, or psychic time travel. But (and pay close attention: it is the film’s central conceit), “Psycho-Temporal Regression (PTR) is not just normal time travel…” (this, again, from the press-release), “…but a special and unique kind of chronoton manipulation in which one’s consciousness is projected back to inhabit the body of one’s younger self; a process perhaps best understood as a kind of retro-temporal karmic intra-migratory process.”
Well that clears that up. Personally, I think this concept could be more accurately described as an unnecessary and one-dimensional rip-off of Quantum Leap.
I won’t bore you with the details of the utterly contrived plot machinations which finally see Miriam – by now a lonely and penniless borderline alcoholic in her early fifties – travel back in time in order to ‘possess’ her younger self. What I will say is that although this concept is not in itself a totally bad idea (perhaps I’m being too generous in saying it might, in the right hands, have been made into something as entertainingly off-beat as Groundhog Day), Sparrow and his team seem to have done everything in their power to make a film that is not only completely unbelievable, but is chronically… well, is ‘unentertaining’ a word?
Worse is what comes next.
Miriam, her consciousness now inhabiting the body of her younger self, realises that her plan (yes, she has a plan now) to change her life for the better is not going to be as simple as she had hoped. Firstly, her memory of past (well, future) events is more clouded than she thought, and so correcting the mistakes she made the first time round (the ‘trial run’ of the title, I think – although this phrase is not mentioned once in the film, and seems to lack resonance even if it doesn’t entirely lack relevance) will not be easy.
There is a second problem. That is, the younger Miriam still inhabits the body and still has ultimate control over what it does. However, the younger Miriam’s consciousness is unaware of the intruder from the future and so, with practice, the older Miriam finds she can influence the conscious actions of the younger Miriam – an influence the younger Miriam seems to interpret as unconscious urges.
Confused yet? I was. And Miriam certainly was – along with the actress playing her, the scriptwriter, the director.
And it is about to get worse.
Because what happens next is that the entire first half of the film is repeated, frame for frame, the only differences being a sombre piano soundtrack, a rushed voice-over (representing, I think, the thoughts of the older Miriam’s consciousness now acting to all intents and purposes as young Miriam’s unconscious mind… although this is never made sufficiently clear) and the inexplicable (although far from unwelcome) deletion of all the previous dialogue and ambient sound effects.
The tearful power-point presentation (and the montage scene preceding it) are more gruelling the second time round, due perhaps to the incessant, know-it-all whining of the voice-over. If a film that exists in a more-or-less constant trough can be said to have a low-point, this is indubitably it.
Soon (though not soon enough) Miriam once again reaches her early fifties; and once again – this time at the behest of an unconscious impulse that is really the attempt of the time-traveling consciousness to have her body do just the opposite – sends her consciousness back in time to try and correct the mistakes of her past. Again.
But this time, thanks Christ, we are spared the chore of following her. Finally rid of her younger self, back in the future (or the present?) and back in the saddle (so to speak) Miriam promptly writes off her experiences with a badly timed and utterly witless quip, a pun so asinine that the taste centre of my brain won’t let me remember it.
Finally – oh sweet rapture! Oh joy of joyful joys! – it cuts to a mercifully short scene in which, for no fathomable reason, Miriam and some new lover, an older man introduced only as Frank, skip hand-in-hand along a broad, sandy beach. The sun sets, the image fades, and we are played out by a hastily thrown together soundtrack of cheaply synthesised strings.
In summary: Think late-night ITV3. Think commercial and critical flop with potential (though limited) commercial future as a ‘cult classic’ in about seventeen years. Think what you like… Trial Run is a mystery wrapped in an enigma inserted into a massive yet thoroughly disappointing turd that you need to avoid, but that you will inevitably step on at some point.
Or perhaps I’ve been too harsh, perhaps I need to view it again, perhaps it will all make perfect sense the second time round.