Switching gears

By James Sanford

‘Handlebar’ marks a change of pace for filmmakers

A young woman is kidnapped from a park and thrown into a van, a man is beaten savagely with a baseball bat, and two lessthan-brilliant would-be thugs are threatened by Rueben the Cuban, who promises to put them permanently out of business if they don’t shape up.

Sounds like Quentin Tarantino-style mayhem. But in Michael McCallum and Shane Hagedorn’s “Handlebar,” it’s all in fun. The Lansing filmmakers combine dark comedy and gangster drama in their twisted tale of ne’er-do-wells Dwayne (McCallum) and Benny (Hagedorn), who are hired to abduct a “package” and end up seizing the wrong girl. In fact, grabbing the mercurial Meghan (Grace Anne Rowan) may turn out to be the biggest mistake they’ve ever made.

The comedy will have its premiere at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, at Celebration! Lansing, with additional Celebration! showings throughout next week.

“Handlebar” was directed by McCallum and written by Hagedorn and McCallum, longtime friends and collaborators who previously produced the moody 2008 feature “Fairview Street.”

“Handlebar” is a complete change-ofpace, McCallum said.

“It was a movie we’d been talking about for some time,” McCallum said. “We were wanting to do a comedy after that noirdrama.”

Hagedorn agreed: “My wife asked, ‘When are you gonna do something funny? I’m tired of crying.’” Mrs. Hagedorn can rest easy: “Handlebar” is no tearjerker. The movie’s tone is set in the very first scene, which features a dazed Dwayne stumbling into the shower, turning on the water and grabbing a beer to help him get the day started.

The heart of the film is the caustic camaraderie between Dwayne (ostensibly the brains of the operation) and the bumbling Benny. After years of working together, McCallum and Hagedorn say they’ve found a comic chemistry.

“We call it ‘the dance’ when we’re in a scene together,” Hagedorn says. “We discover many beautiful things over the course of the scene, nuances that are in there somewhere, but we didn’t necessarily write them down (in the screenplay).”

As a director, McCallum says he encourages that kind of easy association by creating an environment that invites character exploration and taking chances.

“I have no time or patience for ego,” he says, “If it’s all about me, me, me all the time, they can go work with somebody else. I like to set up an atmosphere where people feel they can make mistakes, where it’s not always about hitting a home run every time. It’s about finding the scene.”

That comes through clearly in the off-the-cuff, funky vibe running through “Handlebar,” A raucous soundtrack by Eightball Grifter propels the action.

“You know when you watch ‘Harold and Maude’ and you hear Cat Stevens playing throughout the movie?” McCallum said. “We wanted that with Eightball Grifter — although this is as far from ‘Harold and Maude’ as you can get.”

"Handlebar" premiere

7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21 Celebration! Lansing 200 East Edgewood Drive
Additional showings at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Feb. 22-23 and Feb. 26-28
$8.50 adult evening shows, $7.50 students, $6.50 seniors