Like a nature documentary ogling the strange habits of an endangered species, “Red, White & Wasted” takes us to Orlando, Fla., where the revered pastime known as mudding is in danger of becoming extinct.
Or at least so regulated that it’s no longer fun. Time was that anyone with a monster truck, a brew and a few barely clothed babes could frolic unharassed in Swamp Ghost, a popular mudhole that closed in 2017 after a brush fire. That tragedy haunts Matthew Burns, our sad-eyed guide.
“Mud is like a drug to me,” he confesses, eyeing the collection of VHS tapes containing his filmed memories of decades of mudding. His wife divorced him over his habit, and now he dumpster dives for scrap metal to support his two daughters and an imminent grandchild.
Distracted by Confederate flags and twerking women, the directors, Andrei Bowden Schwartz and Sam Jones, make only a halfhearted attempt to illuminate a disappearing subculture. Depending on your viewpoint, their efforts might arouse envy or horror; but for all the beer cans colliding with foreheads, there’s an insistent sadness here that muffles the ubiquitous bigotry. Mudding, it seems, is just one more thing being taken from people who have very little to begin with.
Filmed from 2015-19, “Red, White & Wasted” is mostly a gawking portrait of getting together and getting trashed. Late in the film, we accompany Burns to a terrifying event known as the Redneck Yacht Club, where pallid, mud-loving partyers chug and howl. Aiming his camera at drunken brawls and jiggling behinds, Burns seems dazed, yet content.
“I like it,” he nods, smiling.