In the wraparound story of Onur Tukel’s third feature Applesauce, a radio talk-show host of ill repute (played by the always-terrific Dylan Baker, in a special-guest-star turn here) poses the ultimate burning question to his listeners: “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” The film takes this query and runs with it, subjecting a quartet of hapless middle-aged assholes to the aftermath of its respective answers in this sardonic, often hilarious Rube Goldberg machine of a film, which hits store shelves on DVD and Blu-ray and VOD November 24th.
High-school economics teacher Ron Welz (Tukel) broaches this subject at an intimate dinner with his wife and another couple after a thwarted attempt to call his answer in to the radio program. After sharing his secret, sordid tale of the accidental amputation of a schoolmate’s fingers, Ron and his wife Nicki (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and friends Les (an almost unrecognizable Max Casella, the furthest cry from Vinnie Delpino these days) and Kate (Jennifer Prediger) discuss the politics of transgression. Two things happen in the days that follow: 1) Ron receives a number of mysterious and menacing packages in the mail, suggesting that someone outside of his circle of friends is aware of (and out to avenge) his greatest wrongdoing, and 2) plagued with curiosity, Nicki, Les and Kate are all forced to confess their worst acts to their spouses, with cataclysmic results.
Though not without the occasional horror trope, Tukel’s film should be considered more of a black dramedy with a dash of psychological thriller. By all appearances the film is about Ron’s quest to find his macabre mail-stalker once and for all before he unravels, and does touch somewhat superficially upon his mounting paranoia, but the real meat of the story lies in the fallout between the two couples after each person’s revelation, and the parameters of wrongdoing once that initial line has been crossed. No sympathetic souls here; all of the main characters are reprehensible to some degree, but always in an amusing, Very Bad Things-by-way-of-Larry David sense, never in a way where you just wish they would die already (yours truly thought Jeepers Creepers could have been ten minutes long if they had just offed Justin Long as soon as the whining started). Tukel and his supporting cast turn in solid performances across the board, owning every self-righteous, spiteful, vindictive minute of screen time. Casella is especially funny as the nebbish-y, butt-hurt Les, probably the only character with a shred of endearment to him (but still a dick, and wonderfully so). Occasionally the story veers off-course into strange, silly, even slightly confusing territory–especially where the ominous-package storyline is concerned–but the four funny fuckups at the center of the film keep the audience anchored and invested in its outcome.
Anyone with an appropriately twisted sense of humor will surely enjoy the wicked out-loud laughs Applesauce has to offer, thanks largely to the collective comedic strength of its cast; though not a perfect film by any means, its flaws are outnumbered and easy to overlook. By its end the audience may find, however, that the film lets one more burning question stand: What the fuck does APPLESAUCE have to do with it??