Black and White and Deep All Over

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Photo by Cristian Carretero L to R: Zurich Buckner (Jack), George Sample III (Louis) and Brian Kowalski (Andrew).
Photo by Cristian Carretero.
L to R: Zurich Buckner (Jack), George Sample III (Louis) and Brian Kowalski (Andrew).

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  A satisfying mix of documentary-style interviews, contemporary scenes, childhood flashbacks and music by local artists, this St. Louis-set film is as sharp and compelling as its two-color palette.

Writer, producer, editor and director Michael J. Larnell juggles a multitude of obligations with far more success than his onscreen alter egos…or so it seems, at first. Slow to reveal the hidden depths of its characters, Larnell’s feature film debut — expertly shot in crisp black and white by Federico M. Cesca — explores red meat matters of growth and stagnation, as three young men bond over the course of a 24-hour quest.

It begins early on a day that’s already reached 93 degrees, with a web series host hyping his show from 82.0 on your radio dial. This week, the town’s roving oral historian will check back in with “a special group of guys who were involved in a very tragic accident a little over ten years ago.” Where are they now, he wonders, and are they still friends?

As engines go, it’s a powerful driving force for the next 85 minutes — whose events, we’re quick to realize, have already happened. This puts us one up on the trio, each of whom take actions that would be ill-advised if they had our grasp of the big picture…or so it seems, at first. There’s that phrase again, and it’s what gives “Cronies” enough chewy marrow to upgrade it from a well-done buddy movie to something that aims, and reaches, much higher.

A vow to raise cash for his daughter’s birthday gift, and ultimately rise above his job washing cars, is what motivates “cool-ass nerd” Louis Johnson (George Sample III, channeling the ’80s look of executive producer Spike Lee, but trading Mars Blackmon’s hyperactive bluster for introspective stares). When a clingy childhood pal arrives expecting to light one up and hang out, Jack (Zurich Buckner) suffers back-to-back indignities: first by having the front door shut in his face, then by encountering Louis’ new (corn-fed white!) friend from work, Andrew (Brian Kowalski). Marking territory he’s already lost but refuses to cede, Jack inserts himself into their plans by taking the back seat position in Andrew’s jeep.

Now the stage is set for a day’s worth of carnal pursuits, recreational drugging and unexpected detours. With Jack and Andrew busy trading jabs in the custody battle for Louis, the object of their affections is slowly coming to regard his small world as a relic of the past. This makes Jack a victim of his friend’s personal growth, especially when the jilted buddy casually reveals the details of that “tragic accident” as a way to one-up everything Andrew has to offer.

What Jack regards as ultimate proof of their bond, Louis sees as a betrayal — but soon, he’ll have real trouble diverting from his high ground long enough to tell the difference between a bid for redemption and an act of loyalty. “I don’t see myself livin’ life without you,” Jack tells him. It’s the best of several sparse, quiet, well-written and wonderfully underplayed scenes during which Larnell uses old and new relationships to investigate the tense complexity of platonic love among men.

After failing to muster the sort of courage that flows from Jack (easily and often), Louis sees his old pal in a new light. A comfortable truce appears to set in, made believable by an ensemble of actors who know when to pour it on or hold back.

When both are invited into Louis’ house, only Andrew accepts. Jack stays behind and, seemingly in anger, walks out of the frame — but it’s what happens next that will leave you contemplating which of the three best embodies the definition of a true crony, fed to us during the film’s early frames: “a close friend or companion.”

Written, Directed, Edited & Produced by Michael J. Larnell
Runtime: 85 minutes

Wed., 4/22, 6:15pm & Sat., 4/25, 8:30pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St. btw. 7th & 8th Aves.).

Fri., 4/24, 6:45pm & Sun., 4/26, 2pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave. at Vesey St.)

$18 ($3.50 phone & web reservation fee)
Visit tribecafilm.com/festival or call 646-502-5296