Postal (2007) Review – Great Game, Poor Film

I’m a big gamer. I love video games. I think it’s a great way to tell a story by enacting it through the eyes of the main character. I do like exploration games like ‘The Stanley Parable’ but I also like the more ‘shooter-esque’ kind of games on the more ‘extreme’ end of the comedic scale. For example, I love the ‘Saints Row’ games. I haven’t played the first one because I don’t own an XBOX and Volition and Microsoft don’t seem to want to release a PC port anytime soon but I have played all the others and I think they’re great. Other’s find them offensive and some of the later games were banned in certain countries for certain aspects of the content. But I still think they’re really fun.

This one might ruffle some feathers.

One game that I found really fun when I was a teenager was a game called ‘Postal 2’ which was developed by ‘Running with Scissors’ and released for PC in 2003.  ‘Postal 2’ featured a character called ‘The Postal Dude’ who was a tall, red-headed man and lived in a trailer with his wife. The first iteration of ‘Postal 2’ (more on that later) took place over 5 days, Monday to Friday. At the start of each day, The Dude will be given simple tasks such as ‘get milk’ or ‘pick up pay-check’ and over the course of the game will run into various scenarios where acts of extreme violence are required.

A more recent game which was released a short while ago and was inevitably compared to ‘Postal 2’ was ‘Hatred’ which was exactly what it was met with by everyone. I haven’t played it personally because apparently it wasn’t very good but the game took on a more serious and edgy tone whilst ‘Postal 2’ approached the violence with a tongue in its cheek. It was deliberately offensive and deliberately violent but for comic effect. We were supposed to laugh as the giant man with the best voice ever (Rick Hunter) wandered around, shooting his fellow townsfolk with a shotgun that had a cat perched on the end of the barrel. It was unique. No one had thought of putting that in a video game before. One could say that it had ‘cult’ appeal. Otherwise known as, ‘not for the mainstream’. It’s not a very long game but it’s about as long as it needs to be.

After all, what could one expect from a game entitled ‘Postal’? I doubt anyone would take time out of their day to play as a member of the postal service. No, the title of course refers to the term ‘going postal’ which is an idiom and is defined as ‘to become very angry and do something violent’.

So far, all I’ve talked about is the game when what I really should be talking about is the film adaptation of the game that was released four years later, stars Zack Ward as ‘The Dude’ and was written and directed by German Film maker, Uwe Boll.

In preparation for this article, I discovered that not much has been released as to the making of the film and how it came about. From what I understand, Uwe Boll was contacted by the German ‘Postal’ fan club and offered him the possibility of adapting the game into a feature length movie. Mr Boll was interested and contacted the CEO of ‘Running With Scissors’, Vince Desiderio about gaining the rights. Mr Desiderio agreed but under the condition that he be involved with the script and production. Initially, Mr Desiderio along with the director of ‘Postal 2’, Steve Wik pitched a much darker and grittier script whilst Boll favoured a more comedic style with an emphasis on political satire. So with that in mind, lets have a look at the plot.

The plot to the film is understandably different from the game. The game’s plot was very simple and the cutscenes were there to set up the conflict with the various groups rather than tell a story. The film however does have a plot and it goes like this.

‘The Dude’ (Zack Ward) is living in Paradise with his gigantic wife (Jodie Stewart) in a trailer park. During the day, he goes for a job interview, attempts to get welfare, discovers his wife is cheating on him with several people including the police, attempts to steal a load of ‘Krotchy’ dolls with his uncle Dave (Dave Foley) to fund his escape from Paradise, meets a pretty lady, Faith (Jackie Tohn) and becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell who have set up in Paradise and are wanting to spread an Avian Flu that’s hidden inside the Krotchy dolls in order to kill more people than they did during the 9/11 attacks. This plan is overseen by Osama Bin Laden (Larry Thomas) who is constant contact with his best mate, George W. Bush (Brent Mendenhall). That’s the tone.

As suspected by the title of this review, I didn’t like this film overall. I have problems with it. Many problems, in fact. I’m going to start with the casting.

Now, I really like Zack Ward as an actor. He’s really good at his job but I have no idea why he was cast as ‘The Dude’. Not everyone can play every kind of character. Again, I have less than nothing against Zack Ward, I just think he was wrong for the role. This is also down to how his character is portrayed in the film. In the game, The Dude is the main character and he’s the most eccentric of all the characters but in the film, he seems more mild-mannered in the film and doesn’t show any ‘Dude-like’ qualities until the final act. Stuff just happens to or around The Dude and he’s just a distant on-looker until about an hour in when he starts getting involved himself. By that point, he’s pissed off a lot of people and can only kill them before they kill him.

To be honest, that’s the only casting issue I have apart from the role of Faith. I don’t have a problem with the lady who plays her, I just don’t know why her character is there apart from being a love interest. She doesn’t serve anything to the plot and just follows The Dude during the final act.

Celebrity cameos were something that was featured both in the film and the game. The late and dearly missed Verne Troyer makes an appearance as himself. The late Gary Coleman appeared as a fictional version of himself in ‘Postal 2’, providing his voice and performing the motion capture.

Although The Dude is the main character, I don’t think he’s the most interesting. For me, that title would go to Dave Foley’s character of Uncle Dave. Uncle Dave shows up very briefly in ‘Postal 2’ on Friday I believe. Uncle Dave has his own doomsday cult and in the movie, it turns out that he doesn’t really believe the stuff that he wrote in his own bible but wanted to put himself across as a prophet and Messiah of sorts so he could have sex with a lot of beautiful women. It’s a rather elaborate plan but it seems to work wonders.

Now.

I’m all for edgy comedy. I like it. And just in reading those two sentences, you know there’s a ‘BUT’ coming. BUT. There’s a sequence at the start of the film that I didn’t find particularly offensive, it made me uncomfortable. There’s a saying that time + tragedy = comedy and I’m not sure if that’s the case here. Of course, comedy is subjective and what some people find funny, others won’t so therefore, I’m going to speak about this opening sequence in the context of the story.

‘Postal’ opens with two terrorists flying a plane. Already, we’re on shaky ground. The terrorists are speaking about how this horrible act they are about to commit will get them many virgins in Heaven but there is some dispute among the terrorists about how many virgins they will get when they get to Heaven. To settle the dispute, one terrorist calls Osama Bin Laden and the response that they get is not what they expected. Since they are not going to get what they were told, the terrorists decide to abandon the plan of committing a terrible act and decide to take their hostages to the Bahamas. Before they can get onto the intercom, the passengers breach the door to the cockpit and take the controls causing the plane to hit the World Trade Centre.

I suspect that maybe the intention of putting a sequence like this at the start of the film would give the audience the impression that the film they were about to see would be one that would push the boundaries. Personal feelings aside, my issue with it is that it’s not really necessary in the context of the story. This alteration to a real life event where real people died is never mentioned again. Given that this film was written with political satire in mind and at the time, the US was 3 years into the Iraq/Afghanistan War, a reference to 9/11 would not be out of the ordinary. But that’s just it, a reference. To me, this opening sequence was just there to shock people and it worked so well to a point where it damaged the film. More on that later. But this prime example illustrates my point. This film is full of risks. Some risks payed off and were funny, and others didn’t.

Film adaptations of video games are difficult to get right mostly because you’re trying to transfer from one platform to another. Video game stories are specifically formulated because the actions and in some cases, the motivations are driven by the player. There will be a storyline but the gameplay aspect is where the player can come into their own and create their own experience. Films are much different. In this case, the story and the motivations of the characters are depicted solely by the writer and therefore the audience are watching the writer’s interpretation of the story.

‘Postal 2’ worked as a video game because aside from the odd line spoken by The Dude, the player got to decide what kind of a character The Dude was in gameplay such as how he would handle a certain situation. Just because those characters and situations worked as a video game doesn’t mean they’re going to work in a non-interactional format. ‘Postal 2’ wasn’t exactly ‘story-heavy’ and in some ways, that was its best aspect, I refer readers back to the ‘creating your own experience’ point. Trying to shove a story into a medium that had no need for a story isn’t always the best solution. Even the story for the film was loose and flimsy at best which just makes things worse. Film stories have to be tight and compact given that films are around 90 minutes, 2 hours at most but video games can go on for as long as the player wants to. Do you see what I mean?

One of the taglines for this film read ‘Some comedies start too far… Other’s start there’ and that just says it all really. The film took a lot from the game as in the characters and the setting and a couple of the lines such as ‘I regret nothing’ which is a great line that wasn’t in the original game but rather in the add-on ‘Apocalypse Weekend’ and is superb even if it crashes on Windows 10 every few minutes. But the biggest thing that was taken was the controversy and that was the big mistake.

‘Postal 2’ was very clever with the controversy in that it was entirely possible to do terrible things with a vast array of weapons but the game doesn’t force the player to do anything. All it asks the player to do is complete the tasks. It doesn’t say how but it does offer some options. The player can equally decide not to take those options. It is entirely possible to do a ‘no-kill run’ of ‘Postal 2’. You have to be very good and I doubt that it’s easy but it’s possible.

On the other hand, giving the film audience no other option but the offensive stuff and throwing subtlety out the window is a great way to get the kind of mixed audience who will either love it or hate it with a passion.

So how did ‘Postal’ do at the box office? I mentioned earlier that the controversial opening sequence ended up damaging the film. Well due to the sequence, a planned wide release in 1500 cinemas in North America that was due to start on October 12th, 2007 was delayed until May 23rd, 2008 and then cancelled altogether in favour of a limited release in just four theatres due to theatre distributors pulling out of the deal. The film had gained some recognition having been played at film festivals in Montreal, the United States and Europe.

What ended up happening was ‘Postal’ was given a limited release in Germany on October 18th, 2007 and took in $142,761 in its entire run. Two weeks in Italy brought in another $3,980. Worldwide, ‘Postal’ brought in just $146,741 against a $15 Million budget. I couldn’t find any figures for the takings in North America.

Although these figures are disappointing, another element of a film’s success are the responses from the audience and critics… well it’s not all bad.

Whilst ‘Postal’ holds a 7% score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 22 out of 100 on Metacritic, the Steam page for the film holds a ‘Mostly Positive’ user rating and quite a few of the IMDB user reviews are also positive.

I’ll leave you with this. Despite some funny moments, for me the film did not live up to the experience of the game. Some might say that comparing a motion picture to its video game counterpart is unfair because they’re trying to achieve different things, I would say the irony is that if the games didn’t exist, this review would be entirely different. I would have praised the film for trying something new and ‘against the grain’ and even though it didn’t work, creativity should always be applauded. Instead, what we got was a film that tried to have the aspects of a video game and at the same time, marketing itself as being ‘controversial’ and ‘edgy’ whilst also layering in some political satire that was entirely in the wrong place. The result was a film that didn’t know what it wanted to be, the message that it wanted to convey was entirely buried under spent shell casings and dead bodies. Alas, the games do exist and the subtlety, the freedom, the creativity and indeed the uniqueness is what made them special. Not ‘Postal 3’ though. That game was crap.

By the way, have you seen my book yet? It’s really good and written by me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s