Crime and Persistence
How the filmmakers of A.K.A. Birdseye managed to cram so many amusing characters and situations into their 90-minute mockumentary remains as much a mystery to me as the mythic robber of the movie’s title. Co-writers/directors Stephen Beckner and Michael C. Huber poke fun at performance art, media frenzy, criminal investigation techniques, and celebrity cults in their unusual comedy/mystery/crime caper – and I loved every minute of it.
The always watchable Fred Ward (Sweet Home Alabama), as an obsessed Colorado Sheriff, gets things started off on the right foot immediately. Ward portrays Nathan Sharpless, a determined lawman on the trail of "Birdseye," a gifted robber/escape artist whose real name is Urs Vogelaug (Stefan Kurt). Ward’s completely serious demeanor, even in hilarious scenes showing the dedicated crime fighter involving his teenage son (Fred Koehler) in his investigation, results in a peak performance for this veteran actor. Koehler also shines as Ben Sharpless, the son who wants desperately to please his father. Their special relationship emerges as the real heart of the movie.
Sheriff Sharpless doesn’t buy the story about Birdseye's mysterious kidnapping by Billy Crudup look-alike Trent Doone (Johnny Whitworth) and the sexy Heidi Logan (Amy Hathaway). He’s convinced this slippery varmint is hiding out somewhere in Colorado. But Vogelaug/aka Birdseye was once a performance artist in Switzerland, so Sharpless heads to Europe when the Colorado trail runs cold. While in Switzerland, our hero discovers Vogelaug’s interest in books about the American Southwest, deducing that these stories might contain clues to Birdseye’s whereabouts.
Despite family problems, professional discrediting, and media scorn, Sharpless persists with his search. Not since Jimmy Stewart pursued Kim Novak so diligently in Vertigo have I witnessed such obsessive behavior on film. If it weren’t so funny, it would be inspiring.
There’s lots to like about this movie, but my favorite sequences involve Vogelaug’s unique "performance art" pieces -- captured on video and played as part of TV news broadcasts -- which contribute to the entire mythmaking process. Some very bizarre thinking went into their creation. Even though Vogelaug speaks nary a word during each presentation, I felt strangely drawn to this character because of his quirky artwork.
Beckner and Huber also bring other memorable characters to life in their first feature film collaboration. Vicky Sharpless (Lisa Blount) will surely become a heroine to every long-suffering wife who can’t understand her husband’s stubborn behavior. Ruth Betters (Beth Grant) emerges as the fan-club leader from Hell. And "Fingers" (Jaimz Woolvett), another criminal suspect, comes across as one of the sleaziest bad guys of the year.
Original and entertaining, A.K.A. Birdseye goes on my list of favorite mockumentaries. It’s in the top three – right up there with Waiting for Guffman and This is Spinal Tap.
(From AKA Birdseye Productions and screened April 10 – 13 at the 2003 Taos Talking Picture Festival. Not rated by MPAA.)