Alice’s Diner has been around for 25 years and has been home to the unwanted and forgotten. After an incident with a deep frier leaves Alice hospitalized, the threat of the diner shutting down or being sold off leaves everyone on edge. None more so than Benno; a man who is willing to do anything to keep the diner running.
It’s a shame how easy it is for a movie to fall through the cracks. “Hard Scrambled” is the feature film debut of award-winning playwright, David Scott Hay, from…2006. The movie had a DVD release once before, but honestly, I had never heard of the movie until the press junket from Brink Vision — who’ve taken over distribution duties for the film — hit my inbox. Then again, “Hard Scrambled” receiving a release now from a reputable distributor of independent cinema might be the best thing since this movie is perfect for this resurgence in southern-fried noir.
Calling “Hard Scrambled” a southern-noir movie wouldn't be accurate since this film is set against city slums rather than the backroads of a small town. There are some similarities between the two though as they both feature the same grouping of underclass people and also features trappings of a classic noir story. The big difference between David Scott Hay’s film and something like, say, ”Two Step”, is that the mystery exists as a framework to hang the performances on.
In general, “Hard Scrambled” does feel like a play that was adapted to the silver screen (probably because that’s exactly what it was) since every element hinges on the characters and the performance of these characters, and it works. While Beth Grant (as Alice) has an important role in the movie as the catalyst that sets off the string betrayals. The movie is about the relationship between Kurtwood Smith (the aged criminal who would do anything for the restaurant), Eyal Podell (the young kid who develops a father-son relationship with Smith), and Richard Edson (the somewhat dimwitted tagalong that just wants to be treated as an equal and shown respect). These three characters make the movie and that make the movie work well. And when I say the mystery is merely a framework, I don’t say that despairingly. The story is solid and functions competently (although it gets a bit muddled in the end, in my opinion) but the characters drive the story, the mystery, and the tension. As opposed to the movie and the characters being driven by the plot.
And not to sell the performances short of Podell and Edson since the movie only worked because of the chemistry between these three actors. For me, Kurtwood Smith made this movie. Although Edson does deserve a world of credit since he has that archetypal weasel-character down to a T. But, again, it all came down to Kurtwood's performance. He’ll be remembered fondly as the hardassed father with a heart of gold from “That 70’s Show”. As well as the villainous Clarence J. Boddicker who delivered the infamous line, “Bitches, leave” from “RoboCop”. But a small movie like “Hard Scrambled” is great because it reminds you of what a genuinely talented and fantastic actor Kurtwood is. Whether you enjoy the story of the movie or not, the last few frames of Kurtwood staring down the barrel of the camera is a haunting moment since it feels as though he is staring straight into your soul. It’s a moment that reminds you that while he is able to generate intensity through that deep gravely voice of his, he is capable of so much more and can create that same intensity through expressions alone. While the story and mystery works due to the contributions of the entire cast, Kurtwood is the linchpin to “Hard Scrambled”. Had he not been able to bring out the humor, the emotion, and the tension in his character and the story, none of it would have worked.
While “Hard Scrambled” is ultimately a character piece, it is still a movie with a solid story to it that has the essence of a classic noir story. Even though the movie fell through the cracks when it was originally released, I think it has the potential to reach a much larger audience now because neo-noir (particularly souther-noir) is a hot commodity right now — especially with “Hap and Leonard” right around the corner. If that isn’t able to bring people in, then the chance to see an outstanding performance from Kurtwood Smith should. I hate to put the spotlight on him alone because, again, the movie works because of the entire cast. But Kurtwood really drove this movie home and brought out the high points in “Hard Scrambled”.