The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest
ZERO STARS/**** Image C Sound B-
starring Adam Garcia, Rosario Dawson, Jake Busey, Enrico Colantoni
screenplay by Jon Favreau and Gary Tieche, based on the novel by Po Bronson
directed by Mick Jackson
by Walter Chaw Food-obsessed Japanese girl band Cibo Matto plays quietly behind a weird commercial of pastel San Diego Chickens sky-diving within the first five minutes of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, offering a benighted hope that the film won't suck that is so ephemeral that its inevitable death is less cruel than perverse. Playing like a version of Real Genius that's somehow worse, the idea of a hard-partying geek fraternity involved in changing the world one byte at a time is so disinteresting and bankrupt that its resounding failure isn't nearly as surprising as the twin revelations that the otherwise bright-seeming Jon Favreau co-wrote the screenplay (and appears in a cameo with crap in his mouth), and that this dog pile of a script (based on a novel by Po Bronson) actually found suitors.
Instantly dated dot-com premise aside, Andy (Adam Garcia) leaves a lucrative marketing position to join insular geek colony La Honda, involved in the research of new, affordable technologies under the iron heel of evil Francis (Enrico Colantoni). Commissioned to produce a "$99 laptop" computer, Andy recruits the outcasts of La Honda on the project in the form of the fat gimp (Ethan Suplee), the Indian caricature Salman (Anjul Nigam), and Jake Busey, playing Val Kilmer. Rosario Dawson essays the role of Andy's tragically-out-of-his-league love interest, Melissa.
The gimp putters around on a moped, Val Kilmer is afraid of germs, the Indian guy makes jokes about his uncircumcised penis, and Andy mugs like an idiot in a sad facsimile of charm. Melissa is a sculptor of bad sculptures who dries her panties in the microwave, and The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest is a nightmare of half-workshopped ideas that are equal parts embarrassing, unwieldy, and unfunny.
Eleventh-hour attempts to write in the dot-com crash do little to disguise the film's origin as a cash-in scheme as ill-advised and badly managed as most dot-com startups themselves. The picture is potentially interesting as an illustration of the amazing speed with which some elements of the present become relics of the past, and how other elements (like Marco Beltrami's insipid score) are timeless in their horribleness. It's also curious to note that this film, like the similarly ill-timed Antitrust, is easily as bad at a fraction of the budget.
The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest (abbreviated The First $20 Million within the cover art and in all promotional materials) finds its way to home video courtesy a 1.85 anamorphic video transfer from Fox on one side of a flipper, with an unmatted version on the other. A curious haze that softens the look and muddies the colours of the piece mars both presentations, causing one to want to polish eyeglasses that one isn't wearing. The Dolby 5.1 audio is free of any rear-channel effects, making the film more of a Dolby 3.1 mix, in truth. Talk-heavy, the dialogue is always understandable in a literal sense. There are absolutely no other extras on the disc, unless a 2.0 track in Spanish is an extra. Originally published: February 26, 2003.