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SXSW 2021 Review: 'Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break' takes aim at your heart

Nick Gillespie’s 'Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break' is less about a mass-murdering spree, and more about the bedazzled buffoon livestreaming his incompetent rampage in search of trending online attention.

Things get wild in 'Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break.'
(Image: © SXSW)

Our Verdict

'Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break' struts, glistens, and slays its way through mayhem that's deceptively sincere while still staying true to promises of squeemish-but-situational violence.

For

  • ⚔️ Perspective will surprise you.
  • ⚔️ Paul Dood is an endearing terrorist.
  • ⚔️ Violence is not random and pointless.

Against

  • ⚔️ Is a bit silly at times.
  • ⚔️ Different levels of "crime" are punished with the same gore.
  • ⚔️ Packaging does not match the contents, for better or worse. (on you).

Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break is part of our SXSW 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

I bet you assume Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is about Paul Dood and his deadly lunch break, eh smartypants? You’re right, but I guarantee Nick Gillespie’s fame-craving extravaganza isn’t nearly as bleak, bloodthirsty, or malicious as expected. That’s Spree, dear readers. Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is a massacre backed by inspiration, hope, and winning one for the outsiders. Don’t get me wrong; there are some spectacularly gratifying kill sequences—Dood’s methods and expertise are just more comedic than deadshot. Is it odd to declare the “Falling Down meets America’s Got Talent” vehicle wholesome? I await your answer.

Tom Meeten stars as hopeful arena entertainer Paul Dood, who’s his mother’s favorite performer. Paul’s dreams of global stardom must start with a successful audition for livestreaming platform Trend Ladder’s regional talent contest tryouts, but a series of unfortunate events causes him to miss his opportunity. A devastated Paul returns to charity-shop insignificance, where he hatches a brilliant plan of revenge on the villains who prevented his shot at celebrity domination. A train platform’s indignant customer service representative (Steve Oram), a culturally appropriating tea house owner (Johnny Vegas), and Trend Ladder's egomaniacal host Jake Tapp (Kevin Bishop) are all on his hit list. Is today the day Paul “Triple Threat” Dood adds another skill to his repertoire?

A film that’s predetermined this violent outlet of aggression from a place of vitriol begins adorably by emphasizing the unbreakable bond between Paul and ailing mother Julie (June Watson). She’s his champion; he’s her caretaker. Together, they rehearse living room dance numbers and share the sweetest compassionate energy without any of the perceived hatred inferred from the title Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break. The world tells Paul Dood he’s a worthless mall clerk with an “L” on his forehead—Julie adores her son’s sequined costumes and high-kicking choreography. Their adoration is undefeatable, which is where Gillespie needs to first engage audiences. Katherine Parkinson's metalhead cleaning lady Clemmie and her crush on Paul have the same effect on the film's back half.

Paul is not a reclusive stereotype of such revenge movies, caricatured as violent video game players or social pariahs in lesser scripts. Paul Dood’s a dreamer, emboldened by a mother’s exceptional attentiveness, but that doesn’t make him an evildoer. Those who delay Paul’s initial travels turn out to be the monsters of Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break, nor is Paul able to become the assassin he promises his Trend Ladder followers—because this is still an Insta-famous story with “screen life” elements since Paul’s smartphone provides an uninterrupted feed strapped to his chest harness. As Paul’s exploits worsen by madcap standards, he climbs Trend Ladder’s ranking system towards the coveted number one spot. His challenge? Staying alive and out of prison.

It’s a treacherous blend of darkly comedic retribution, heartfelt incapabilities since Paul’s no murderer, and graphic demises because Paul’s the most successful incompetent killer in cinema. There are some howler moments involving steamrollers, janitorial mop handles, and the ultimate case of eating shit off a skateboard ramp. Alice Lowe and Kris Marshall, for example, plead for their lives as a grifter nun and priest combo who delight in their despicableness because we know, somehow, Paul will make these wretched con-artists beg for mercy. Even better, he’ll do so accidentally, which is ever-more satisfying because you skirt around the moral ethics of rooting for Paul Dood’s mission. Should a transportation ticket puncher die because he hassles someone’s grandmother for her senior discount without identification? Maybe not, but Gillespie works within the radical confines of his co-written screenplay (Matthew White/Brook Driver) to alleviate such narrative pressures as laughter comes far too naturally.

It helps to assemble a cast owning their roles, “heroic” or “evil.” Meeten’s transformation into Paul Dood separates from reality without losing the relatable traits of a desperate man hoping to spread a little joy in an otherwise gloomy world. Kevin Bishop abuses his assistant Gary (Chris Willoughby) and belittles undeserving peons as an everlasting satire on social media superstars worshipped for fakeness. Steve Oram, Johnny Vegas, and Jarred Christmas all excel at playing ranging levels of assholes who deserve kicks in the teeth for unique reasons (self-importance, whitewashing, bullying). Meetan’s glitter-fabulous punisher is only as good as the unsavory scum he targets, and adversaries all ham their nastiest qualities within exploitative and cathartic boundaries. Some garden-variety pranksters, others who threaten seppuku, and you don't hesitate to think, “Go for it!”

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is tender, tenacious, and out-of-bounds. There’s an equal representation of touchstone emotional development about our broken society and corpses described as sausage meat squeezed from its casing for visual comparison. An 80s hipness throughout the soundtrack keeps brutality upbeat while Paul parades around wearing sparkly-spangly unitard numbers as if his big break could happen at any moment, blood puddles be damned. Still, somehow, Nick Gillespie records a testament to unwavering spirits others would rather snuff than encourage out of spite, and it’s a glamorously uplifting message. Paul Dood’s here to get you in the mood, and he’s no one-trick wonder.