SCREENED AT THE 2003 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: The behavior of man has baffled the greatest thinkers in the world. What they want, why and how they want it will confuse, frustrate and anger the various species that roam this planet. It’s a subject that almost never gets tiring. Unless it’s the latest episode of Sex and the City reminding the masses that we’re all pigs and selfish lowlifes, everyone has their own theories and it’s hard to discount any of them. Seems only fitting that this film was announced as a “work-in-progress” at the CineVegas film festival; an industry labeling that usually means a rough, unfinished print that test audiences will offer their two cents on. The film I saw certainly had some rough edges that needed smoothing, but overall showed that writer/directors Jeff & Josh Crook had more progress as storytellers than most filmmakers showing off their finished prints.Immasculination as much as anything can lead to the male ego drive spinning off into voids he never dared imagined. When we meet our lead (Jason Madera), his boys already can’t swim and the adoption agency isn’t offering healthy white babies. He must listen to stories of his brazenly crude boss (co-writer & co-director Josh Crook) bending over the secretary at work and making his own deposit on the picture of their co-worker’s (Chris Ferry) mail-order wife. Asking for a promotion isn’t in the cards when high-fiving the boss’ manhood is the least of his moral priorities.
None too happy with the state of things, his wife (Angela Grant) announces that she’s no longer attracted to him. So what’s a guy to do but kill two birds in one stone and indulging in his own fantasy of getting a little action from the boss’ lady (Christina Caparoula). Doesn’t it always seem that the nicest of guys who slip up once are always destined to suffer the consequences? He’s about to face the hard facts of the situation as well as himself.
The Fittest breaks up its chapters into “Natural Selection”, “Origin of Species”, the “Descent of Man” and finally the full phrasing of its title. The circumstances that develop around the characters’ indiscretions lead to behavior that probably jumps the boundaries of believability and runs the risk of losing our sympathies for the main character. Writer/directors Josh & Jeff Crook do make good on not endorsing such conduct and provide the appropriate comeuppances at every turn.
“Women say that want their men to be faithful. But who wants to marry a unich?” That’s how two characters of the film go through life; yes-men to their employers and to their ladies. And who’s to say that they’re wrong, except maybe Ferris Bueller who once said “you can’t respect somebody who kisses your ass.” Of course, unless women are shown doing something deliberately malicious, it’s easy to associate them as the victims to the male power struggle. But their faults in the scheme of things are more understated than that and the screenplay doesn’t let them off the hook either. Or the coat hanger.
Respect comes hard from the audience for the two tire-selling jamokes who would be complimented if you said they had a single ball between them. At times, you just want to scream at them to stop getting bullied like a pair of pimpled schoolgirls as they contribute to the strength of their boss in the decidedly anti-Glengarry atmosphere in the workplace. All the performances adapt to the film’s strengths and weaknesses, but Josh Crook’s turn as that superior deserves a special praise for his subtle poker-faced villainy. If Jake Busey ever steps aside, Josh could fill in without missing a beat. One day this guy should be getting all his roles and more.Dark screwball comedy is a particularly difficult beast to uncage, but the Crook brothers have a handle on all the characters and never leave a thread dangling in the wind. There’s a full circle of coincidence that makes it way around all the subplots and behavioral traits and that can only be done with an eye for weaving a complete tale. The Crooks don’t ask us to embrace all of these characters and its easy to be laughing one minute and cringing the next as we await their next futile action at trying to dig themselves out. Man will always be a work-in-progress from birth to death to future generations and The Fittest is only one amusing take on the human condition. But it’s a good one.