The old Westport watering hole had been closed to customers and turned into a set for a crew filming Lenexa, One Mile, the indie movie being directed by Third Watch regular Jason Wiles. The project has been filming around town and will be about halfway through its 25-day shoot by the time this serving of the Strip hits the streets.
This meat patty was fully aware that there were more serious topics to occupy its time last week. Talk radio, for example, was filled with the pathetic bleating of football fans, upon whom it was gradually dawning that their beloved Chiefs weren't above outright extortion to get the millions in taxpayer cash they crave to fix up their stadium. Police, meanwhile, had their hands full with the unlikely war breaking out between rappers in the Bay area and, of all places, Kansas City, hitherto unrecognized on the Coast as a hotbed of rhyming talent.
Yes, the summer was starting out to be a bizarre one. Which is exactly why your proteinaceous narrator decided to dodge the serious stuff and take it easy by visiting a film set. After all, it's not every day you can say that a Baldwin brother is making a movie in your town. (Outside of places where people actually make movies on a regular basis, we mean.)
Alerted by the Night Ranger's Billy Baldwin sighting (see Night Ranger), we looked into the project and learned that Wiles, a Lenexa native, had convinced his Third Watch crew -- the series having finished its final season -- to leave New York and come to his hometown to film a story he's been wanting to tell for some time. With his writing partner, Shem Bitterman, Wiles had concocted a story about the sort of teenage friends he had growing up in Kansas City's suburbs.
What is Lenexa, One Mile about? Think Breaking Away, Wiles and Bitterman told the Strip, recalling that great 1979 movie about four Indiana townies, all going nowhere, who achieve a kind of greatness by beating college kids in Indiana University's Little Indy bike race. Wiles wants Lenexa, One Mile to evoke the same feeling (in this case, with basketball and softball exploits and with mean cops as the adversaries instead of stuck-up college kids). His story is about five guys about to go their separate ways after high school. Each character faces his own challenges, each has his own "arc," to borrow a screenwriting term. But the bond that grows among them is jeopardized as they face a sudden dark truth ...
OK, enough of the PR crap. This prying pot roast managed to stumble across Bitterman's actual synopsis, which the writer didn't even know was floating around on the Internet. And it seemed to make him awfully nervous when we told him about it, particularly when he realized that we'd found parts of Lenexa, One Mile's story to be a bit preposterous.
Relax, Shem. We know it's not fair to judge a movie from a synopsis. Lenexa, One Mile could turn out to be a work of genius that gets wide release. (Although, with a low budget and the Baldwin-brother factor, the term straight to video looms large, we figure.)
Besides, our short set visit gave us the impression that the movie was a labor of love. We watched Wiles pace the set before herding his five young punks into position and showing Nichols where he wanted him to deck a Kelly's customer. Nichols impresses us as a young man who's going places. He played a rich, preppy bastard in The Day After Tomorrow and a rich, sporto bastard in Wimbledon. This time he's apparently going slightly against type, playing a proletarian, bar-brawling bastard in Lenexa, One Mile.
Lead Josh Stewart (a Wiles Third Watch castmate), meanwhile, rehearsed the key moment when he first lays eyes on his love interest, played by Jennifer Hall (who made her film debut with a small part in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind). The rest of the rascally male quintet, played by Jason Ritter (Joan of Arcadia), Timothy Hensel (Wiles' younger brother) and Paul Wesley (Everwood), practiced how to portray underage drinking in a place that's practically a temple to it.
"I've been coming to Kelly's since I was 16," Wiles told us with a wistful look in his eye.
Wiles is directing an experienced group of actors, with Michael Rooker, for example, playing the main cop heavy and the Baldwin bro playing a dad gone bad. And Wiles' crew is a set of pros from the Big Apple.
Still, he admits that getting his movie to theaters will be a challenge. "Nothing's guaranteed," he says. "I just want to concentrate on making a good film. It's up to me not to fuck it up."
When he said that, we thought about bringing up a couple of plot twists in the story's synopsis that defy all logic, but we decided not to. There was no point in being negative. Not when the couple of million dollars riding on the project wasn't coming out of the Strip's pocket, anyway. Wiles seemed like a nice guy, and he was clearly having fun. "It's my dream, and everybody's clicked into it," he said.
What the hell. We were on a movie set, which was cool. For a week, at least, we'd try to forget about this town's stupid problems.
Tony Ortega talks about this weeks Pitch with KRBZ 96.5s Lazlo after 4 p.m. Wednesday.