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Things to Do

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/31/07 18:27:15

"Garden State 2: Canadian Boogaloo."
3 stars (Just Average)

Around the time our twentysomething hero squeezes a spandex uniform over his everyday clothes and sets out to beat a tweener in a soapbox derby race, we realize “Things to Do” is going to be one of those movies that tries just a little too hard to be quirky and peculiar. This low budget Canadian indie has its moments, but it also has its problems - namely, it wants so much to be off center yet winds up without a real voice of its own. We’ve seen these post-college finding-oneself dramedies many times before, and the filmmakers fail to offer much that’s new.

And yet there is a charm that drifts over the entire picture, saving it from itself. We may not care about what the characters are doing, but we sorta like these people anyway. There’s an honesty to them hidden underneath all that faux-insanity, and we smile.

Adam (Mike Stasko) just quit his dreary office job and is returning to his hometown to live with his folks for a while. The parents are out of touch, and he’s stuck in a rut of post-college ennui. He bumps into old pal Mac (Daniel Wilson), a stringy weirdo living off some bogus insurance lawsuit, and quickly Adam is inspired by Mac’s off-the-cuff goofiness. Adam whips up a list of things he’s always wanted to do but never has (skydive, beat up an old bully, etc.) and enlists Mac to help him with his cause.

Those familiar with the genre already know the rest: in participating in these varied stunts, Adam will figure his life out just in time for the closing credits. The film plays it safe with its adventures; the visit to the old bully, for example, plays out exactly as you think it will, as its build-up telegraphs the punchline long in advance. A run-in with a teenage crush (Amy Ballantyne) supplies the movie’s obligatory love interest, and this storyline plays out without a single surprise.

And when the script attempts to duplicate the off-kilter stylings of Wes Anderson or Zach Braff (indeed, “Things” feels like an accidental companion piece to “Garden State,” right down to its hipster soundtrack), it comes up just a hair short. The absurdly inattentive parents, quirky suburban lifestyles, and deadpan serious takes on such trivial matters as soapbox derby equipment all come from the Gen X/Gen Y Handbook of Movie Idiosyncrasy.

Meanwhile, a subplot in which Adam’s reasons for returning home, told in flashback, becomes completely unnecessary, as the movie strains to explain what should be left unsaid. The best movies of this sort know that the hero’s inner struggles are just sort of there, inexplicable unrest, blues out of the blue. By over-explaining Adam’s motives and flogging us with themes of living life to the fullest , the screenplay inadvertently loses its footing. The flashbacks are dull and unnecessary.

Fortunately, “Things” survives all of this thanks to the sharp, engaging performances of its two leads. Wilson makes the most out of Mac’s peculiarities, finding giggles in the character’s not-all-there reactions. Even when the script slips in a few scenes near the end by trying to make Mac more serious than he should be, Wilson’s droll handling of the material sings. Stasko winds up as more of a straight man, then, but it works; he’s a beleaguered everyman set free by his pal’s nutty ways.

“Things” is a small, homegrown affair. Director Ted Bezaire shares writing and editing duties with Stasko, who in turn also co-wrote the musical score along with cinematographer Eric Schiller. The film is more admirable than it is successful, revealing the seeds of cinematic vision but not the full fruit.

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