High Strung ★★½

The following is my entry in this year's White Elephant Blogathon.

Have you ever had the misfortune of sitting down in front of the tube after a hard day's work only to discover that your uninformed choice for a comfortable evening's entertainment - possibly something recommended to you by an acquaintance who is not as much of a friend as you thought they were - is little more than a gussied-up stand-up comedy routine? Sure, the jokers who threw this film (and I use the term loosely) together, presumably to cash-in on some imagined home video goldmine, had the good sense to put someone with a modicum of talent behind the camera. Director Roger "Trekkies, Trekkies 2" Nygard is wise enough to vary shots, keep bodies in motion, modulate pace and inject enough mystery to make the viewer want to stick with the debacle until the very end, but even so, he can't disguise the fact that this whole misguided venture is nothing more than a simulation, a would-be comic spiel delivered from a set standing in for a stage to a camera standing in for an audience.

To make matters worse, the mode of comedy being deployed is that of the observational rant, a style in which the speaker - or rather, shouter - takes some generalized pet peeve and, by applying tone of voice or concocting an outrageous example, attempts to make the audience believe something rather inconsequential is in fact a crime against all humanity. This guy, Thane Furrows, plays to an imagined audience at the back of the comedy club in his mind, all winces and nervous gestures while ramping up his anger levels, finally punctuating his mini-screeds with a self-satisfied sneer after his rage has reached its climax. He hates the justice system, his mother, his ex-girlfriend, his neighbour, his job, infomercials, junk mail, soap operas, state fairs, even the impossibility of judging the optimal amount of milk to pour into a bowl of cereal. In other words, there's little selectivity to his attack, his comic buckshot aims to take down as many easy targets as possible. Thane's interactions with a handful of side characters (Fred Willard as an insurance salesman, Denise Crosby as the boss' wife) are little more than further opportunities for him to let loose his bile, but at least they have the saving grace of temporarily relaxing the tone of the film and reducing its claustrophobia.

The thing is, Thane Furrows is just a character, one portrayed by the film's co-screenwriter Steve Oedekerk. (Yes, it took two geniuses to come up with this guy's not exactly inspiring material. I guess even rapid-fire banalities require a team effort when you have 90 minutes to fill.) As the film progresses and we watch Thane flip out equally over injustices both perceived and real, the cracks in the character he presents us deepen. Despite his complaints about the behaviour of others, he is often selfish and mean-spirited. He seems to have no clue about the the inappropriateness of the children's book submissions he complains about having rejected. He can't seem to manage simple tasks like retrieving something from behind the couch or killing a pesky housefly. He is easily bested in the duel he himself engineers to show up a noisy neighbour. Even as seen-it-all a being as Death, in the form of uncredited, rubber-faced, trying-too-hard Jim Carrey, can't abide him. Clearly, the filmmakers don't actually like Thane all that much, and yet they still saw fit to subject me, and possibly you as well, to his grating presence for a full hour and a half. What kind of bullshit is that? In the words of Thane Furrows himself, "I wish I was dead!"

But death is clearly too good for me, the kind of person who would attempt to disguise his paucity of insight with a half-assed appropriation of the very voice that he has come out critical of. It's an open question whether the film intends to attack the comedy style embodied by Thane's rant or is merely ending on a requisite punchline. If the former, consider these words an inadequate attempt to grapple with a film that is operating on a meta-level that is not immediately apparent. If the latter, let these words be seen in light of the laziness that inspired them. In either case, let there be no doubt about the esteem in which I hold them.