Here’s what Steve Hicks’ neo-noir indie Fuzz Track City has going for it: It views the conceits and comforting clichés of old-fashioned, hard-boiled detective stories through the lens of sophisticated rock snobbery. The central McGuffin of the story is a rare 45rpm vinyl record that various parties all covet for various reasons, and whose content may unlock a scandal that could cause billions of dollars worth of damage. In a world of instant mp3 downloads, and the unfortunate wane of rock snobbery in general (indeed, an age when pop music seems to play a decreasingly important role in the lives of young people), it’s comforting (for an old physical media addict like me) to see a story that features on the permanence and importance that physical media can have. Rock and roll, as Neil Young once posited, is here to stay. This is a film that rewards the rock snob. Your life collecting rare records and vinyl can still, in the digital age, take down empires. Wish fulfillment? Perhaps. But wrapped in a pretty good detective story to take the edge off.
Fuzz Track City is a fun, somewhat clever if not somewhat amateurish film that is making its premiere the night of June 4th at The Chinese theater in Hollywood. And while it doesn’t quite have the panache and scuzzy crime zazz of Get the Gringo, released earlier this year, it’s shabby and determined enough to be appealing.
Murphy Dunn (Todd Robert Anderson) is a mop-topped, mustachioed PI living in the undesirable, brown-skied corners of L.A. He doesn’t own a cell phone, drives his classic ‘70s car, and refuses to take off his brown leather jacket even during the summer. Murphy is destitute after the recent death of his aged partner who, we learn, was not only a mentor, but was sleeping with Murphy’s wife Al (Tarina Pouncy), now pregnant. This is all recognizable noir stuff, given a little bit of a punch by Anderson’s deadpan performance; he looks almost like a character that Will Farrell would play in a parody of this sort of material, but Anderson makes the wise acting choice of allowing Murphy to think that he looks cool. Murphy is, in his shabby way, a rich character. When Murphy’s ex-guidance counselor (Dee Wallace, representing the film’s only star power) hires Murphy to find her missing son, he has to delve into the world of rare record collectors (Josh Adell), ex-rock stars (Dave Florek), cocky pop divas (Sean Wing), would-be rock star waitresses (Abby Miller) and battling PIs (Matt Ashford and Kelly Van Kirk) to find a 45 that, to some, is worth buckets of cash.
Eventually, Murphy’s growing awareness of the pop music around him will come to bear. I can’t say too much more, as I don’t want to give away any plot details, as unfortunately predictable as they may be.
The finished product of Fuzz Track City feels, at many times, like it’s not quite complete. The editing is, by turns, choppy and lenient. At times, we seem to jump around in time, while at others, the film spells out, very carefully, clues that we have already figured out for ourselves; for instance; it takes Murphy nearly two minutes of screen time to figure out that a character named Zack Lee would have a license plate that says X4CTLY. It’s a simple visual clue that’s treated like a grand revelation. Indeed, it’s the mystery itself that proves to be the film’s weakest point; it’s kind of easy to figure out who is behind what, as there are no false starts or extraneous characters to keep us guessing.
What I liked about Fuzz Track City was its determination. Unlike a lot of low-budget indie filmmakers, Hicks seems to have, in his own way, a real style. And sometimes, a little bit of style can go a long way. I also, as I said, like the conceit of a rare record being the center of a noir investigation. It casts an old-timey light on a genre that often only banks on updated gimmicks.