Ridiculousness played with a straight face, The History of Future Folk is endearing even if it’s never quite hilarious. In Brooklyn, Bill (Nils d’Aulaire) tells his daughter a bedtime story about the far-away planet of Hondo, where a famed General Trius promised his mother, and the army which he commanded, that he’d save their people from impending apocalyptic destruction (courtesy of a comet) by locating a new inhabitable planet. Finding Earth to be a suitable replacement residence, Trius opted to spare humanity from annihilation after discovering music, an art that rocked his soul from the moment he first heard it (while decked out in a red-and-black spacesuit and matching bucket-shaped helmet) in an NYC Costco. That amusing image is matched by that of Bill, in the same get-up, playing his banjo in a Brooklyn dive bar, where his sensitive songs about Hondo and intergalactic travel are delivered with a tongue-in-cheek irony that helps mask the fundamental fact that Bill, unbeknownst to anyone including Wren or wife Holly (Julie Ann Emery), is really Trius, working undercover to find a way to complete his mission.
John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker’s film soon pairs Bill with Kevin (Jay Klaitz), a mustached Hondo assassin who, upon hearing Bill’s banjo tunes, abandons his assignment and forms a folk duo with Bill. Thus is born an extraterrestrial variation of Tenacious D, whose weird-guys-playing-acoustic-instruments-in-dingy-clubs routine looms large over The History of Folk, and often not for the better, as such similarities underline the general blandness of its protagonists’ rapport and adventure. Running into trouble with the law, Bill attempts to reconnect with his estranged wife while simultaneously trying to save two civilizations from obliteration, all as Kevin woos local cop Carmen (April L. Hernandez)—narrative threads that put the focus more on run-here-do-this plotting than actual funniness. By concentrating on sci-fi story details at the expense of the very absurdity that such a premise demands, the film gradually goes inert, squandering during its third act much of the goodwill initially earned by the cheery silliness of its early scenes between Bill and Kevin. Still, if never quite tipping into out-there insanity, or capable of escaping the shadow of Tenacious D, it does, during a final Future Folk performance that again exhibits d’Aulaire and Kalitz’s singer-songwriter chops, cheekily convey music’s character-, life-, and world-changing power.