4 Stars
Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 86 minutes
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There’s a character named Coen in this movie, and I have to wonder if that’s a coincidence. Not unlike the work of the Coen brothers, what we have here is a movie that is both hysterically funny and wholly somber. Also, the film was written and directed by one brother and produced by another.

And so help me, I don’t feel sorry for making the comparison – because just like the Coen brothers, they pull it off.

After a brief and genuinely unsettling opening sequence, we are introduced to a man with some serious problems: Simon Applewhite. He’s being interrogated for the crime of interfering with a radio tower.

Simon claims he was only trying to help – the Mor-gons, or Moonies, or space aliens, use these radio towers to communicate with one another, and he was just trying to block it. And he wants his sunglass (not sunglasses, he later explains, but “sunglass”) back, and he wants to see the right nipple of his interrogator.

If this scene sounds funny, it is. It’s also quite creepy, with jumpy editing that mirrors Simon’s state of agitation.

The interrogator relents and shows Simon his nipple, and for one reason or another, the cops opt to let Simon go, as he’s obviously crazy but not terribly dangerous.

Detective John Lefsburg is tapped to take Simon into the next town. John has problems of his own. He’s lost his job at the station once already, and is close to losing it again. His wife is horribly on edge about John driving around – she has a thing about the importance of seatbelts – and besides, he was supposed to be home tonight to help their daughter with her homework.

John insists it’ll be an easy trip – the next town and back, he’ll be home later that night.

Things don’t go according to plan. Simon causes John’s car to get a flat in the middle of nowhere. Then he steals Simon’s keys (he doesn’t trust keys, he says) and throws them into the nearby brush, effectively leaving them stranded.

When they finally get a ride, John has Simon stay at his house in an attempt to hide from his boss the fact that he screwed up. And then, like a well-played card trick, secrets start to be revealed.

The fundamental question usually posed by movies like this is pretty straightforward: Is the character who is making wild claims crazy or not crazy? Some films try to have it both ways, leaving it up to the interpretation of the viewer, and others give you a definitive answer.

This movie has one, and it’s pretty good. It manages to be out of left field, and still play mostly fair, and a lot of the things that didn’t make sense earlier in the film lead to “Oh, so that’s why…” answers.

Beyond that, it’s almost a universally excellent film. The two leads have a great deal asked of them – to be funny, and angry, and sincere – and they carry these things off with an almost shocking amount of skill. In particular, the actor who plays Simon deserves special recognition for making a believable character when he could have so easily been a cartoon.

And as long as I’m recognizing people, Damon Criswell has created an excellent score for the film. The score for the opening of the film was genuinely unsettling, and music throughout the film eased many transitional points where the film could have come apart.

The acting throughout the film is almost universally high, and only one actor truly bothered me – he seemed to be playing just a little more campy than he needed to be. There’s also the matter of a somewhat convenient coma, and its rather difficult to swallow resolution, but these are minor quibbles and could easily be glossed over as stylistic choices made by the director.

These problems, however, are really only minor annoyances in what is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. It’s difficult to pull off funny and scary separately, and this film is both. Here’s hoping it finds an audience.

Posted on December 31, 2003 in Reviews by

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