One distinctive all-round auteur who’s yet to get his due is writer-director-actor Onur Tukel, who’s best known for the uncharacteristic Catfight – in which he doesn’t appear – but has been working up a distinctive, rambling, style since House of Pancakes (1997). Following his vampire movie Summer of Blood and gruesome shaggy dog story Applesauce – in both of which he appears as a whiny, grating character being drawn into a stranger world – he ups the ambition with Black Magic for White Boys, a patchwork project that fuses the jittery, jokey introspection of Woody Allen with the large cast ensemble of Altman.
Like Allen, Tukel isn’t afraid to use fantastical premises in otherwise down-to-earth movies, and here the plot motor is that stage magician Larry the Great (Ronald Guttman), who owns a going-out-of-business New York Theatre, would rather resort to black magic than have an open mic night on Thursdays and so opens up a grimoire which enables him to make people disappear (and, optionally, bring them back). This is striking enough to turn round the fortunes of the show and its own little troupe of oddballs, but the real money is to be made in ‘freelance services’ – and Larry starts working for real estate sleaze Jamie (Jamie Block), who wants his mostly low-income black tenants to disappear so he can gentrify their buildings. Oscar (Tukel), a trust fund man-baby, is affronted that his girlfriend Chase (Charlie LaRose) has resorted to another type of magic – dispensed by herbalist drug dealer Fred (Franck Raharinosy) – to cure her infertility … and decides to hire Larry to make the embryo disappear. While Larry’s customers use his gifts for dubious ends, others go to Fred for less obviously evil miracles – an aggressive asshole (Brendan Miller) who’s alienated his girlfriend (and everyone else) takes a potion to make himself a nicer guy, a dwarf stagehand (Colin Buckingham) is made over as a giant.
It’s a long-ish, discursive, low-pressure film – and you have to be willing to put up with a lot of dithering, self-pity and motormouth dialogue – but keeps coming up with fresh ideas, not least in a home stretch which seemingly randomly dishes out happy or sad outcomes for just and unjust characters. It has a haunting sense of a community being literally wiped out of existence to make room for self-involved, merciless middle-aged rich kids who still demand people not think them repulsive.