Auteur, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 03/25/09 19:26:36

"The accent is funny, the rest, not so much."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Oh, how I wanted to like “The Auteur.” I felt writer/director James Westby’s last movie, “Film Geek,” was a nifty little valentine to movie buffs of the world, with a terrific, fearless performance from his leading man, Melik Malkasian. They’re smart guys with a eye for dark comedy. Which makes their newest collaboration all the more disappointing: it’s a one-joke affair that quickly abandons snarky, devilish wit and aims instead for easier, more obvious gags.

The film is a feature-length reworking of a five-minute short film they produced back in 2002. Maybe that’s the key. The entire premise - flamboyant Italian filmmaker Arturo Domingo, inspired by both “Cahiers du Cinema” and “Hustler,” rose to fame by treating porn as high cinematic art - is a brilliant idea for a brief comedy sketch, and Malkasian’s broad performance, accompanied by goofy haircuts, a grossly bushy mustache, and a hilariously thick accent (he pronounces it “por-no-GRAFF-y”), would fit right in on one of the better seasons of “Saturday Night Live.”

But that’s ultimately all there is to it. It’s funny enough to work for about five minutes, your typical sketch length; the first few minutes here are indeed very, very funny, with Malkasian’s Arturo shown treating a porn shoot like he’s aiming for greatness. (There’s also humor in the shock of just how much nudity - full frontal, male and female - we get right when we weren’t expecting it.) But then the jokes wear thin, and the third or fourth time we hear titles like “Five Easy Nieces,” “Broadway Danny’s Hos,” and “Full Metal Jackoff,” we begin to yawn.

The film plays out as a part-mockumentary, part-traditional narrative that first explains Arturo’s rise and fall (his fame disappeared after some “Apocalypse Now”-style on-set disasters and a falling out with his regular leading man Frank E. Normo, played by John Breen), then follows him as he journeys to Portland, Oregon, to be part of a film festival honoring his work. There, he attempts to reunite with ex-wife Doris (Katherine Flynn) and perhaps make up with Frank, all while struggling to get his next film off the ground and putting his past behind him.

There are some good ideas here, but they tend to get lost in overlong bad ones. Arturo makes a lengthy detour into a hippie commune, and the camera lingers and lingers and lingers some more as Arturo gets stoned, naked hippies dancing around him. Later, we’re treated to the complete finale of Arturo’s director’s cut of “Full Metal Jackoff,” and the scene keeps going and going to no end, even though the joke stopped working a long ways back. Both are fifteen second quick gags stretched out to take up long chunks of the film.

To his credit, Malkasian - who gained some forty pounds for the role, all in the name of comedy - manages to create a fully realized comic character here, and he’s able to pull chuckles from an off-kilter glance or a bad haircut. And Westby creates his own giggles by mixing film buff awareness with the absurd (Arturo’s “Full Metal” incident transplants Coppola’s ordeals to rural Ohio, with bizarre results).

But it’s all just not enough, even at its thin seventy minute running time. The porn parodies and wacky escapades wear too thin too quickly, while attempts at a sweeter side never really take off. Westby and Malkasian have a great movie in them somewhere, but “The Auteur” just isn’t it.

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