Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two movies that aren't 'Basterds'

Jason Schwartzman stars in The Marc Pease Experience, a movie you've probably heard nothing about, maybe for good reason.

Alexis Bledel (left) and best buddy (Zach Gilford) share intimacies in Post Grad, but this is Bledel's movie.

I missed the screening of Inglourious Basterds, and will catch up with it over the weekend. Such is the price of making films as well as writing about them. I was busy in the editing room. For what it's worth, I can tell you that the process of making films generally beats writing about them. For one thing, you're not sitting alone in dark rooms or isolated in front of a computer screen, wondering whether anyone gives a damn.

Some day, I'll write more about my filmmaking adventures. For the moment, though, I'll tell you about my week at the movies, which resulted in a couple of low points, namely The Marc Pease Experience and Post Grad. I call these movies low points because the world would be no worse off had neither of them seen the dark at the end of the multiplex tunnel. . Marc Pease (awful title) stars Ben Stiller and Jason Schwartzman; Post Grad provides the talented and "adorable" (my wife's word) Alexis Bledel with a nice showcase. The movie isn't much, but Bledel makes the most of it.

So, The Marc Pease Experience: Can't get to the Sundance Film Festival? Don't fret. Marc Pease makes you believe that you're at one of the more unfortunate Sundance premieres in the cavernous Eccles Center. Imagine you've waited on line in the cold because you were drawn by two marquee names: Stiller and Schwartzman. If you're younger, you may have been attracted to the presence of Anna Kendrick, who plays a high school student who has an affair with a drama teacher (Stiller). You elbow your way inside the theater, collapse into a seat and begin fighting off festival fatigue.

Now imagine that within 10 minutes after the picture starts, you realize that you've been suckered. Aside from a few chuckles, the movie wasn't worth the wait.

That's all that needs to be said about Marc Pease, a movie with a script by Todd Louiso and Jacob Koskoff. That's all that needs to be said, true. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to say more.

The movie avoids any real exploration of the consequences that might result from a student/teacher dalliance, focusing instead on the story of a man who can't grow up. Scharwartzman portrays the title character, a limo driver who's unable to get singing out of his system 10 years after graduating from high school. Stiller plays a high school teacher who directs musicals. The Wiz figures heavily in the plot.

Louiso, who also directed, previously gave us Love Liza, a weird little movie about a widower (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who began sniffing gasoline fumes to drown his grief after his wife's suicide. Once again, you can feel Louiso straining to be quirky, and if his movie could talk, it would probably say something like:

"Look, Stiller needs to prove that he can do something that isn't a Night at the Museum sequel, and Schwartzman seems to connect with audiences when he's stuck in a Rushmore-inspired rut. Isn't that enough reason to make a movie?"

To be fair, Marc Pease serves up a few funny moments, but the movie's message -- adolescent boys eventually must mature -- hardly qualifies as earth shaking. Here's a shocking idea: The best way to help immature audiences to grow is by presenting them with movies about adults, not by wallowing in states of suspended adolescence.

Overall, Marc Pease is a negligible effort in which amusing moments are undermined by an annoyingly quirky tone. Mercifully, the movie clocks in at one hour and 24 minutes. Short is good, particularly because the movie's insistence on spoofing the way amateurs adopt show-business attitudes makes the whole effort seem passe, an inside joke that's been told so many times, it long ago was shoved into the cold light of obviousness.

Post Grad should have been a horror film instead of a comedy. What could be worse? A grown kid toes the line, attends college and graduates. Defeated by an inability to find a job, she moves back home with her parents, her grandmother and her younger brother. Talk about nightmares.

Post Grad soft-peddles the more depressing aspects of its premise, opting instead for predictable fluff. Alexis Bledel's performance as Ryden Malby dominates the movie as a recent graduate whose hopes are dashed when she fails to land her dream job with a Los Angeles publishing company. Bledel proves engaging.

A couple of asides: Remember when Michael Keaton was big? Now, he's stuck playing an inept but ultimately supportive father in a second-tier comedy. Worse yet, a major plot point involving his character is left unresolved. Another aside: Looking significantly long in the tooth, Carol Burnett shows up as Keaton's mom. Burnett still can deliver the comic goods, even when her role doesn't amount to much.

Otherwise, the best I can say about Post Grad is that it runs for only one hour and 29 minutes instead of the usual two hours and 10. If it has any purpose at all, it's to raise eyebrows among parents who face the prospect of harboring a grown child in the basement. "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

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