From Julius Caesar to Elvis Presley, plenty of legendary characters have turned up in Las Vegas.
And Thor, the towering Norse god of thunder, joins the list in "Thor at the Bus Stop."
The made-in-Vegas comedy, which sold out two shows at the CineVegas film festival in June, returns to the Palms’ Brenden Theatres today as part of the CineVegas Presents screening series.
A red-carpet photo session will precede tonight’s 7:30 show, featuring "Thor’s" cast and crew, including Jerry and Mike Thompson, the filmmaking brothers who write, direct and appear in their feature-length debut.
Graduates of UNLV’s film department, the Thompson brothers (sons of longtime Review-Journal staff photographer Gary Thompson) interweave two plot lines from previous short films to create "Thor."
The movie focuses on the helmeted, hammer-toting title character (played by Jerry Thompson), who’s in a definite existential funk — entirely understandable considering he’s facing death and trying to save the world by vanquishing the giant Midgard Serpent.
Wandering Las Vegas’ otherworldly suburbs, Thor encounters a variety of characters at least as strange as he is — including Passenger Seat Pete (Chris McInroy), the subject of another Thompson Brothers’ short, who’s so genial even a gun-toting carjacker can’t cloud his sunny outlook.
Several other quirky characters turn up along the way, among them a macho detective (Jason Neistadt), a gung-ho TV reporter (Barrett Applegate), philosophical pizza-delivery guy Ultra Stan the Everyman (Joe Berry) and obnoxious punk White Trash Chuck (played by Mike Thompson).
To say nothing of a hapless pedestrian impaled by a "Yield" sign (Robert Shupe) and a dapper, handcuffed suspect played, in a rare speaking role, by Penn & Teller’s usually silent half, Teller.
After collaborating on several short films, "it definitely felt like it was time" to do a feature, says Mike, who at 27 is seven years younger than his brother Jerry. "We each had written a feature, but they were more like school projects. This one we wrote together."
One of their UNLV instructors, associate professor David Schmoeller, also encouraged them to try a feature — and wound up producing the movie along with May May Luong, another UNLV film department graduate.
"They weren’t sure they were ready," Schmoeller says, recalling a conversation with the brothers at last year’s annual Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City, during which he told the Thompson brothers, "You guys, you’ve got to make a feature — and I’ll pay for it."
Not that there was much money involved. "Thor" wound up as a "no budget film," Schmoeller explains, "because we didn’t pay anyone" for their work on the project.
Ultimately, the production cost less than $10,000 — although "most people who know us think we had more money than we have," Jerry says. "We were able to do it for almost nothing."
In large part, that’s due to "our amazing, wonderful, talented friends, who all donated their time for free," Mike adds. (Insurance and meals for cast and crew during last summer’s shoot accounted for most of the budget.)
But all the money in the world can’t replace a clever script — and that’s one attribute "Thor" definitely possesses, Teller contends.
"No good movie is ever made on a big budget," he says, describing the Thompsons as really good writers. "I noticed that especially when I was working on the lines. Every time I changed a word, it was less good than what they’d written, so I did it exactly according to the script."
Except when the filmmakers asked Teller to choose an appropriate passage for his character, whom Teller describes as "a mild-mannered, Shakespeare-quoting, philosophic serial euthanasiast — sort of a cute old Kevorkian."
To Schmoeller, the Thompsons combine technical prowess with a "unique comedic view of things" — a comedic view that also appealed to Brenden general manager Josh Threatt, who helped bring "Thor" back following its CineVegas debut. ("Thor" also played at two Asian festivals: the Singapore International and the World Comedy festival in Bangkok.)
"I’ve seen it twice — I love the movie," Threatt says, praising its "quirky, funny" qualities.
"Thor" also enables the Thompsons, Southern Nevada natives, to show a different side of Las Vegas than moviegoers usually see.
After all, "locals aren’t that excited to see movies about alcoholics on the Strip," Jerry maintains, describing visiting Vegas productions — generally heavy on neon-lit Strip montages — as "shot by tourists, for tourists."
Instead, "we really wanted to show the really bizarre suburbs" that dot the Southern Nevada landscape, Mike says. "It’s almost like we’re on Mars and trying to plant this suburban world" in the middle of "stark, barren dirt."
If "Thor" does well at the Palms, it may play additional theaters in other cities next year. (A Halloween DVD release is planned; for details, check the movie’s Web site, thoratthebusstop.com.)
In the meantime, the Thompsons have been busy promoting "Thor’s" local run — for the past few weekends, Jerry has donned his Thor regalia to pose for photos in the Brenden lobby.
And they’re planning their next feature, which they also intend to film in Southern Nevada.
"Vegas is a very, very, very film-friendly city," Jerry points out. "It’s like you’re a bunny and Las Vegas is a bunch of elementary school kids in a classroom who think you’re neat and want to pet you, where L.A. is a vegetable patch — and they want to get rid of you."
Contact movie critic Carol Cling at email@example.com or 702-383-0272.Preview
"Thor at the Bus Stop"
Brenden Theatres at the Palms