Like many thrillers, Carp-e Diem opens with a murder. In this case, committed by Father Roger (Chad William Michael) after he interrogates his victim about the whereabouts of an unnamed woman. As he does Paula (Jennifer Rae, No Tomorrow) watches on seemingly approvingly, even handing him his gun when he needs it.
The woman in question happens to be Natasha (Emily Sweet, Castle Freak, Mount Adams) who is very pregnant and on the road with Vern (Nick Josten, Target List, No Virtue). They’re just drifting, doing the odd home invasion for a place to stay and jewelry to sell off to pawn shops.
At least that’s what they were doing until they reached the home of Martha (Holly Lorge, 3 Tickets to Paradise, It’s What’s on the Inside) and Bob (James H. Jackson, Desert Shadows, John Wynn’s One Hour). After things go sideways and they end up killing them instead of just tieing them up Natasha and Vern find a large stash of cocaine in the house. This could be the solution to their problems or the start of a whole set of new ones.
MJ Palo who co-directed with Andrew Arguello (Waking Up Eighty. Quantum Entanglement) and co-wrote the script with Gregory Klino (Film Something, You Got It) covered some of the same ground in her script for Baby Money which also had a pregnant woman involved with a home invasion turned deadly. Also like that film, Carp-e Diem has more than its share of problems.
Most notably there is a lack of likable characters. If Carp-e Diem was a hard-boiled neo-noir that might not matter, but it’s billed as a crime comedy and most of them try to make at least the leads charismatic enough that you’ll root for them. Natasha and Vern are anything but charismatic, they’re actively obnoxious cold-blooded killers who the viewer has no reason to care about. Maybe we’re supposed to care about Natasha because of her pregnancy, but if she doesn’t care enough about it to avoid high-risk activities like home invasions or even stop smoking, why should the viewer care?
Carp-e Diem could have maybe made this work with us wanting to see them brought down as the rest of the film’s cast descend on the house believing them to actually be Martha and Bob and the situation gets more complicated. And plenty of people do arrive, from
Instead, it goes for weak jokes like a coked-out Vern speeding past a cop who’s busy masturbating. Or being introduced to Agent Cooper (Jasmeet Baduwalia, Power Rangers Beast Morphers, The Mustang) as he lays next to a male sex doll. Pedro (Lukas Silva, Alien Shark) the cartel boss’ son sent to help them move the drugs is the kind of effeminate stereotype I’d expect to see in a comedy from the 80s, not a current film.
Some of the film’s problems may be due to the fact that Carp-e Diem seems to have started out as a series of ten-minute shorts under the title No Virtue. It certainly feels like several individual episodes stitched together with some connecting footage. That would also help explain why a couple of characters that I expected to be important to the plot are barely in the film.
Mostly though the problem with Carp-e Diem is that it’s never sure what it wants to be. The main characters don’t engage you enough that you care about them so it’s at best sporadically funny, But the tone is too light without actually being funny for it to work as a thriller, there’s never any sense of menace even when this wannabe Mickey and Mallory are shooting people and the only regret they show is when the bodies start to stink.