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HAIKU TUNNEL (director/writer: Josh & Jacob Kornbluth; screenwriter: John Bellucci; cinematographer: Don Matthew Smith; editor: Robin Lee; music: Marco D’Ambrosio; cast: Josh Kornbluth (Josh Kornbluth), Warren Keith (Bob Shelby), Amy Resnick (Mindy), June Lomena (DaVonne), Helen Shumaker (Marlina D’Amore), Brian Thorstenson (Clifford), Harry Shearer (Orientation Leader), Raoul Brody (System Administrator), Sarah Overman (Julie Faustino), Joe Bellan (Jimmy the Mailman); Runtime: 90; Sony Pictures Classics; 2001)
“There’s just not enough of a story for this to be a feature film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A mild comedy spoof set in San Francisco about an aspiring writer who is working as an office ‘temp’ for a law firm. The film covers the same territory as “Clockwatchers,” but doesn’t dig as deep into what the workforce is all about. “Haiku Tunnel” gets its film title by being named after another temp job the film’s hero had which he loved and which involved typing up reports on endless specs for an engineering project in Hawaii involving the Haiku Tunnel. Josh Kornbluth and his brother Jacob directed this satire, and they adapted the screenplay with John Bellucci from Josh’s stand-up performance monologue. Josh also stars in the film, playing his alter ego in a fictional story. The film has its funny moments, but it’s a paper thin story that is built around Josh’s paranoid problem when he goes from a temp to a perm. The plot covers in detail that week of Josh enjoying his position as a temp and the next week of being a perm and feeling pressured.

After a week as a temp secretary to a prominent tax lawyer, Bob Shelby (Warren Keith), someone Josh thinks might be Satan, the nebbish and cherubic looking Josh with an affinity for wearing Hawaiian shirts is offered a permanent position because he worked hard that week. Josh thought Shelby might be the Prince of Darkness and therefore why get Satan mad. Though happy to be a temp, Josh takes the perm job since the health benefits pay for his psychotherapy.

The company’s name is Schuyler & Mitchell, whose abbreviation is S&M. That becomes the sophomoric running gag throughout. When Josh was a temp the other secretaries — the animated Mindy, the gossipy Clifford, and the elusive DaVonne– were cold to him, but when he joins the firm as a regular they warm up and take him out drinking. The supervisor secretary, an authority figure, is Marlina, someone Josh is more comfortable confiding by voice mail his innermost fantasies than he is with his shrink. Nothing happens with that comic situation.

Josh narrates and is in almost every scene. His comedy involves making different facial expressions, ranting on how the lowest thing in life is to work under a capitalist, and how he screws up everything.

The film’s main plot is that as soon as Josh becomes a perm, his boss asks him to mail out 17 important business letters. But he fails to do that and as a result his position in the firm is threatened. When the other secretaries tell him he has wiggle room to still mail the letters late at night, he sabotages himself. While he is supposed to be getting the letters ready for delivery, he meets an attractive high-powered lawyer (Sarah Overman). She mistakes him for a tax lawyer and goes to bed with him in the hopes of getting some tax info. Josh eventually tells her “I’m just a secretary.”

“Haiku” evokes a bleak vision of the lowly workers being treated as children by their big bosses, and of machines dominating their dreary lives. Josh starts out perceived as a bumbling nice guy who is unstable and has many emotional problems. When we find out that he’s a compulsive liar and also manipulative, we become less sympathetic toward him. The charm in this little film is that Josh goes on open-ended rants and stumbles across droll comic situations, such as the orientation session he attends over stuffed copy machines and his love for certain office supplies and believing the Uniball micro-pens are the Camille of pens. Or when he gets such a kick out of saying “Hello, I’m from Uniforce.” This is enough of a thrill to make his day. There’s just not enough of a story for this to be a feature film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”