Film review: 'Dropping Out'

Film review: 'Dropping Out'
Suicide may be painless, according to the "MASH" theme song, but in this crazy case, it can be downright exhausting. A loose-limbed, dark comedy about one San Fernando Valley slacker's attempt to end it all, "Dropping Out" is a sly hoot. It's a light and loony slant on twentysomething ennui (usually portrayed by indie filmmakers in starker and more pompous tones), and it's also a dead-on satire of movie production.

It's not exactly a festival secret that the American Spectrum section of the Sundance Film Festival often has more entertaining and accessible movies than the more celebrated Competition category. Don't be surprised if distribution executives drop in to filmmaker Mark Osborne's office; "Dropping Out" has some decided commercial appeal among the college-age set.

In this dark lark, Emile is a nice boy, if a tad phlegmatic, watching "Brady Bunch"-ish sitcoms around the clock. Since he doesn't have a life, what's to lose if he ends it all? But before Emile can effectively slash his wrists, the hand of fate knocks: Emile gets a call to action from a Ventura Boulevard motel manager offering a night clerk job he applied for way back when.

It's not a demanding job, watching TV and hanging out with a lunkish and cynical co-worker who not only doesn't lift Emile from his despondency but encourages him to pursue his suicide. Not only that, but since this is L.A., turn it into a movie. Soon preproduction turns into production, and before you can say "step deal," a gaggle of suits latch onto the "project" -- Emile's suicide -- and get it financed.

Both upbeat and mordant, "Dropping Out" is a nifty amusement. Filmmaker Mark Osborne, who won the top prize for shots at Sundance last year, has tossed out a loosey-goosey pic that, beneath its sunny veneer, is very dark. For those festivalgoers who have seen an old movie or two, it's somewhat reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh's classic putdown of Hollywood in "The Loved One". The self-centered smarminess of Hollywood and independent filmmaking is acidly lampooned.

Despite some plot droopiness, "Dropping Out" is a funny and sobering send-up, both of the pretensions of twentysomething ennui but also of the artistic integrity of moviemaking. Special praise to screenwriter Kent Osborne for the observantly odd writing.

The cast members are gifted comers, including Kent Osborne as the swoony Emile. Most noteworthy, however, is David Koechner's juicy turn as Emile's slug/lug co-worker. Koechner, a terrific comic foil, is reminiscent of a boisterous Bill Murray, dispensing insincerity with knockdown power. Additionally, John Stamos is also terrific as Emile's loser neighbor, the guy with the smokes and the attitude who is invariably in line when you're at the 7-Eleven.

It's all done with a cheeky bounce, courtesy of some happy tones from cinematographer Brian Capener and crafty cuts by editor Kris Cole.

DROPPING OUT

Producers:Neil Machlis, Michelle Imperato-Stabile, Steve Kalafer

Director:Mark Osborne

Writer:Kent Osborne

Executive producer:Daniel L. Stillman

Director of photography:Brian Capener

Editor:Kris Cole

Production designer:Diane Yates

Color/stereo

Cast:

Emile:Kent Osborne

Henry:David Koechner

Andrew:Vince Vieluf

Scott Kayle:Adam Arkin

Ronnie:John Stamos

Wendy:Katey Sagal

Running time -- 109 minutes

No MPAA rating

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