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Ryan's Babe

2000, Starring Bill LeVasseur, Alix Hitchings and Catherine Rossini. Directed by Ray Ramayya (JR Productions).

Filmwise, Saskatchewan has had a rough ride of it over the years. Nestled between two far more active film centres, Saskatchewan is first overshadowed in the west by Alberta's long history of filmmaking, which stretches back to the silent film era and includes such exploitation notables as David Cronenberg's Fast Company, Prom Night II and FUBAR. To the east lies Manitoba's “prairie surrealism” movement, though that much-touted regional film boom never seemed to infiltrate the provincial border, either.

Though a few films Saskatchewan-shot have managed to leak out over the years, such as the 1973 Canadian loser classic Paperback Hero, the province's reputation will not be redeemed by Ryan's Babe, the 2000 directorial effort by Ray Ramayya, a school superintendent and sometime filmmaker from Northern Saskatchewan. An unlikely story of purported self-discovery by the man with the worst luck with women possible, Ramayya unwittingly combines Calgary's schlocky storytelling with Winnipeg's off-kilter aesthetic sensibilities, from which emerges one of the most confusing and preposterous films made outside of the tax shelter era.

Not only does painfully average dude Ryan (Bill LeVasseur) have no babe in this film, he can't seem to get one anywhere throughout his meandering cross-country travels that take him from Saskatoon to the heart of Arizona. It starts innocently enough--Ryan may not be interested in Connie (Alix Hitchings), the cute girl next door, but she's positively obsessed with him, sabotaging Ryan's existing relationship and then faking a suicide attempt to get his attention. It doesn't work, but when the girl's drunken, shotgun-toting father (Peter Cooy) gets wind of his little girl's hospital stay, he heads over to Ryan's apartment to settle the issue. After getting an early warning from his roommate, Ryan takes the adult way out--he grabs a suitcase, runs to his car and heads for Calgary to lay low for a while.

It's here that the film's puzzling story planks pile up into lopsided cabin of coincidence and ridiculousness. First, Ryan's flagged over by a couple on the side of the road having automobile trouble, who convince him to trade cars right then and there--a dumb decision that bites him hard when he realizes that the car he got in return is stolen. Ryan is then carjacked at gunpoint by Krista (Catherine Rossini), a high society heiress on the run from her husband, who has framed her with the murder of her parents. Stockholm Syndrome sets in fast, and when she overhears a newscast that she's been cleared, they flirt and he drives so she can catch a flight home. But then, leaving the airport, Ryan's mistaken for the son of a powerful drug dealer. Kidnapped by rival thugs Vinnie (James Reid Patrick) and Shakespeare (Chad Waughtal), Ryan climbs out of a window and sneaks out of their compound to catch a ride with a friendly trucker (Corey Reaume) hauling some sort of contraband never revealed. After inexplicably drugging Ryan, the trucker drops the poor dupe at a diner where he immediately gets a job slinging coffee.

While Connie's family and friends implore her to admit she lied about the suicide to clear Ryan's name, things get even stranger out on the road. After serving three of the oldest cheerleaders you've ever seen, Ryan's somehow mistaken for a rapist who assaulted their friend. The revenge-minded trio returns that night in varsity sweaters and masks to castrate Ryan--only he's saved at the last minute by the victim, who saunters in to note that while Ryan's not her attacker, he is pretty cute.

By this time, Ryan's somehow arrived in Arizona, where some guy at a gas station offers him a job at a local hotel resort. He quickly meets Brenda (Andrea Sundine), a heart-of-gold hooker trying to support her daughter Mandy. Brenda gives him a sob story about an abusive ex, who then promptly returns one night in an unsuccessful attempt to kill her. Out of nowhere, Ryan wins $20,000 in a lottery, which he turns over to the struggling single mom. He then decides he should go back home to Saskatoon--but will he ever make it back? A detour into a bar lands him a one night gig as a male cowboy stripper for a bachelorette party, where he winds up sleeping with the bride's gold digging stepmother. Just when things start looking up, he picks up a young, curvy hitchhiker by the side of the road who once again sends him off his intended path.

Never officially released on home video, it's believed that Ryan's Babe is one of a handful of Canadian regional films that managed to air on Canadian pay TV station Superchannel. Only recently was the film rescued--literally--out of a Saskatoon dumpster by film programmer Tyler Baptist, who has screened his copy locally in hopes of getting more fans of this bizarre prairie parable. And it's not hard to see why it might catch on with B-movie masochists--full of confusing plot turns, laughable coincidence and manic melodrama, Ryan's Babe is a film that taps into the same unintentional comedy vein as Tommy Wiseau's cult hit The Room.

And the film has more in common with The Room than just an outsider approach to filmmaking and a droning, never-ending orchestral synthesizer score (in this case by Northern Pikes backup keyboardist Ross Nykiforuk). Like Wiseau's disasterpiece, there's a strong misogynistic streak in Ryan's Babe--the women in the film are almost all grasping, confused and malicious individuals out to do emotional, physical and financial damage to average dudes like Ryan. Dudes who just want to hang out, y'know, maybe read a little poetry at a field party. And those girls that aren't trying to get something from Ryan, like Brenda and Krista, are damsels in distress unable to save themselves without Ryan's white knight routine. And whether by design or bad acting, this incredible string of events and parade of desperate women all seem to roll off the back of the bland, emotionless Ryan--Drug dealer pointing a semiautomatic at me? Harsh. Almost got my dick cut off? Bummer! Won a fistful of cash? Nice! Just got conned by a car thief? Boy am I gonna feel dumb tomorrow!

Perhaps that's why Ryan's episodic journey deep into Arizona doesn't seem to help him learn or grow in any identifiable way--by the end of the film, the poor shlub is even more of a victim of a universe trying to destroy him than when he started, subject to encounters with (mostly) women that just keep taking and taking from him no matter what. It's even likely that Ryan is even more soured on women than when he began his ill-advised border-hopping escape from a confused Saskatoon barstool jockey bent on protecting his daughter. The only storyline coming close to a character arc is suicide-faking obsessive Connie, who comes to realize the terrible, monstrous things she did to such a neato guy like Ryan, and does some penance by heading to the beach and gazing misty eyed into nothing in particular, in the film's most hilariously overwrought sequences.

While the film's depiction of human relationships is otherworldly at the best of times, it seems even more remote and inaccessible due to the overdubbed dialogue, which makes it seem like a 1960s Doris Wishman movie. Even more problematic is the film's confusing structure, which often resorts to head-scratching flashbacks-within-flashbacks--Ryan's Babe actually begins with Krista carjacking Ryan, and only then does it head back to tell the beginning of the story and how he came to be on the run away from his problems--a technique that might have even worked had Krista not completely disappeared from the narrative minutes later. But such is the nature of a film as completely disjointed and increasingly preposterous as this. Because in the end, Krista is really no different from Connie (or the car thief, or Brenda, or the horny stepmother)-- just a brief wannabe babe waystation on Ryan's intimate journey to absolutely nowhere.

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