The cheekily titled Dick Johnson & Tommygun vs The Cannibal Cop: Based on a True Story is a micro-budget offering from Buffalo-based writer/co-director John Renna which, from the neat opening credits that take the viewer through one of the protagonist’s squalid apartment all the way through the fun illustration and blooper enhanced closing credits, proves that one need not spend millions of dollars (nor hundreds of thousands for that matter) to make an entertaining film.
Made for a mere $9000, Dick Johnson & Tommygun vs The Cannibal Cop: Based on a True Story (henceforth referred to as DJ+TG) is a fun hybrid police procedural/horror/comedy that has its tongue planted firmly in its low-budget cheek. There’s a maniac cop on the loose, abducting young women, eating them, and cooking them in some decidedly unsavory looking dishes. Renna plays the slovenly veteran cop Jeffrey Thompson (aka Tommygun) assigned to take the rogue peace officer down, while Sam Qualiana, so entertaining as ne’er-do-well boyfriend Dutch in Killer Rack, plays the reluctant and mismatched partner, rookie cop Richard “Dick” Johnson.
Renna, obviously a student of popular culture, punctuates DJ+TG full of sly and oftentimes hilarious references – both reverent and irreverent – to all manner of genre cinema and conventions. The riffs and satire come fast and furious, with nods to everything from video games, The Evil Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 80’s athletic montages, exaggerated action film gesticulations, and mismatched buddy cop dynamics a la Tango and Cash or Lethal Weapon. Add to that gratuitous toplessness, face chomping and hands being put through meat grinders, and DJ+TG has everything a genre cinema aficionado could ask for.
That The Evil Dead is referenced is fitting as also along for the ride are Timothy P. Quill (the blacksmith in Army of Darkness) and Evil Dead II’s good ‘ol Jake himself, Dan Hicks. He plays the cantankerous and often infuriated Capt. Phil Phillips, and he’s an absolute hoot. All too often when a “name” horror actor appears in a low-budget indie, their performance proves perfunctory at best, usually amounting to little more than a brief cameo. Not so with Hicks, who’s never less than fully committed and absolutely hilarious. So integral is Hicks to the film that in many ways it should have been titled Dick Johnson & Tommygun + Captain Phillips vs The Cannibal Cop. Whether hurling invective at the two titular detectives or expressing confusion over the expression “PM” (private message” vs. time of day), Hicks unequivocally delivers the goods.
Which is to take nothing away from the rest of the cast. Qualiana and Renna have wonderful chemistry, likely the result of having worked together on many a New York State based project, including Killer Rack and the upcoming Johnny Gruesome. (There’s a large number of Killer Rack alum that appear in DJ+TG, an added treat for fans of the Greg Lamberson-helmed film which we named one of the best horror films of last year. That also includes the unfailingly awesome Debbie Rochon, here exuding more of her awesome Debbie-ness.)
DJ+TG is not a perfect film; the budgetary limitations almost ensure that it couldn’t be, but its a hell of a lot of fun: entertaining and full of heart. And for a micro-budget, it looks damn good too. Viewers will not regret taking a bite out of this Cannibal Cop.
***1/2 (out of five)