BEST F(R)IENDS: VOLUME TWO Review: Treading Water In The Desert

VOLUME ONE felt fresh and unique. VOLUME TWO… not so much.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: splitting Best F(r)iends into two films was a huge mistake. It’s not that there isn’t merit to both installments, and it’s easy to see what the rationale was for doing so, but from a storytelling perspective the justification for Volume Two to take up its own feature runtime is misguided at best and purposely milking the audience at worst. If you read my review of Volume One, you’ll know that I quite enjoyed what Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau had to offer in their grand cinematic reunion, as it gave Wiseau a darkly comic vehicle that played into the mysterious performer’s eccentric persona. Volume Two is almost entirely devoid of that charm, and while what it offers instead is amusing in its own way, this installment is more of a curiosity than a thrilling conclusion.

Spoilers for the end of Volume One start now, so bookmark and tab out accordingly if you want to remain unsullied for the first two acts of this story.

Volume Two picks up right where Volume One left off, with John (Greg Sestero) apparently killing Harvey (Tommy Wiseau) in a fit of rage and leaving him for dead on the beach. John and his girlfriend Traci (Kristen StephensonPino) resume their plan to steal the money from Harvey’s ATM-shaped safe, but find themselves unable to open it because John stole the wrong set of keys from Harvey’s body. So John and Traci start a trip across the deserts of the Southwestern United States, working their way toward freedom from investigation and hopefully toward cracking open that safe.

If that sounds very light on Wiseau shenanigans, you would be right. Harvey is absent from approximately ninety percent of this film, appearing mostly in a framing device that completely spoils the apparent surprise that he is still alive. To fill that charismatic void, Volume Two tries to supplement with bizarre character performances to mixed success. A bed and breakfast operator who seems strangely hesitant to offer John and Traci a room is an awkward riot, but a rogue locksmith, who figures it’s worth more to steal whatever is in the safe than to simply accept payment for unlocking it, is a relative bore. The real show-stealer is Rick Edwards as Uncle Rick, a friend of Traci’s who gives them refuge and a home base until they can crack the safe. Uncle Rick belts out absurd euphemisms and aphorisms just about every other line, developing a character who is crass and doesn’t quite seem to have a handle on what words mean. He could be taken as a dark reflection of Wiseau’s Harvey but only comes across as a pale placeholder.

This is largely why Volume Two doesn’t work as its own separate entity. This is essentially the third act of the winding Best F(r)iends saga stretched to feature length, and the sacrifices to pacing, style, and character are immense. Mostly gone are the surreal Lynchian edits of Volume One, instead presenting this desert odyssey with flat, basic cinematography and characters simply expositing back and forth. Absent is any sense of momentum, which the film seems to want to rectify by haphazardly inserting that Wiseau-centric framing device when that scene would seemingly work better if left intact as the saga’s conclusion and has no direct bearing on John’s struggles with guilt over killing his best friend. But even John is completely uninteresting now, as he is a passive passenger led by the nose by Traci and Rick from scene to scene, killing time through inaction before Wiseau finally returns to save the movie from itself. The mysteries of John’s and Harvey’s backstories from Volume One are offhandedly explained in exposition dumps that feel less like revelations than matter-of-fact holes of lore that need to be filled. Volume Two feels like a betrayal of the unique surrealist style of Volume One, but it doesn’t stand alone as a complete film in itself either, as its various plot machinations serve only to kill time until an admittedly cool climax.

There is still stuff to enjoy in Volume Two. It’s most definitely the more explicitly funny of the two installments, with Uncle Rick’s baffling dialogue holding the shaky supports in place until Harvey can return in a most wonderfully ridiculous costume for an action showdown that actually works fairly well, especially because it leans into the low-rent nature of the production. But these are exclamation points that punctuate long stretches of nothingness, signposts that remind you that what you’re waiting for is coming up but the story’s path between here and there is nothing but barren wastes in a shallow layer of sand. After Volume One, I was hoping for more inspired exploration of Wiseau’s and Sestero’s now-legendary friendship, but Volume Two just tastes like Diet The Room. There are worse ways to spend your time, but Best F(r)iends: Volume Two is neither refreshing nor satisfying.