'Baghead'


In the indie-film world, "Baghead" belongs to the movement known as "mumblecore."

Too bad "Baghead" also turns out to be a genuine mumblebore.

It's got most of the attributes shared by the so-called "mumblecore" indies that started cropping up shortly after the turn of the millennium: an almost-nonexistent production budget, digital video camerawork and a focus on angsty relationships among characters played by never-heard-of-them performers, many of whom aren't professional actors.

Sometimes those ingredients blend to create something memorable, as in 2006's lyrical "Old Joy," in which two longtime pals try to revive their dormant friendship during a camping trip.

Sometimes, however, the elements combine into something truly forgettable, as in "Baghead."

The movie finds filmmaking brothers Mark and Jay Duplass -- whose 2005 debut, "The Puffy Chair," was a hit at the Sundance film festival -- combining the mumblecore aesthetic with the micro-budget horror tradition, exemplified by genre landmarks from "Night of the Living Dead" to "The Blair Witch Project."

In theory, it should work. Initially, it does -- sort of -- as a pretentious, no-budget mumblecore movie wows an L.A. film festival audience.

Except for a quartet of underwhelmed observers, all scraping around at the fringes of showbiz, who come to the same conclusion: If the festival's auteur du jour (Jett Garner) can make a movie, so can they. That would certainly solve the perpetual problem of trying to find roles in other people's movies.

Conveniently, one of the group has an uncle with a quiet mountain cabin where they can hole up for a weekend to brainstorm on the project.

So the four of them hit the road, cheerfully oblivious to the dangers of rustic locales and simmering lust.

Take-charge Matt (Ross Partridge) takes charge of the hapless quartet, with on-again, off-again girlfriend Catherine (Elise Muller) by his side. ("We're soulmates," Catherine says, overlooking the obvious fact that it's tough to have a soulmate without a soul.)

Alas for Catherine, she's been there and done that -- and it shows, making her the uneasy older woman who's always comparing herself to bubbly, naive Michelle (Greta Gerwig). Naturally, Michelle inspires ardent devotion from tubby, schlubby Chad (Steve Zissis), Matt's obnoxiously endearing -- or should that be endearingly obnoxious? -- best friend. (If someone were casting a "Seinfeld" sequel, Chad could play George -- and if "Baghead" were a big-budget comedy, Seth Rogen would play Chad.)

Conveniently, the cabin provides the ideal setting for either a relationship movie or a generic gorefest. The latter becomes the likeliest prospect after Michelle glimpses, or thinks she glimpses, a mysterious intruder standing outside the cabin, a paper bag obscuring his face. ("Unknown Comic" Murray Langston should sue the guy for stealing his shtick.)

Speaking of shtick, "Baghead's" got exactly one joke to exploit -- it's a relationship movie masquerading as a horror movie -- and proceeds to beat it to death.

The movie's best moments are its first ones, which target the insular film festival scene -- and the self-congratulatory blowhards who populate it.

From there, however, "Baghead" quickly wears out its half-hearted welcome, reveling in its supposed cleverness while repeatedly demonstrating that it's hardly as smart or insightful as it thinks it is.

The movie's four principals enjoy an easy camaraderie, but it's tough to find the depth in such shallow characters; only Muller manages to suggest any sort of emotional undercurrent. (Even if it does run close to the surface.)

And all the shaky-camera shots in the world can't disguise the fact that "Baghead's" guilty of the same visual clichés as the splatterfests it tries to satirize.

Many of those movies provide actual laughs, however unintentional. Which is more than we can say for "Baghead." In other words, folks, bag it.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

 

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