(director/writer: Goran Dukic; screenwriter: based on the novella “Kneller’s Happy Campers” by Etgar Keret; cinematographer: Vanja Cernjul; editor: Jonathan Alberts; music: Bobby Johnston; cast: Patrick Fugit (Zia), Shannyn Sossamon (Mikal), Shea Whigham (Eugene), Tom Waits (Kneller), Leslie Bibb (Desiree), John Hawkes (Jan); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Adam Sherman/Tatiana Kelly/ Mikal P. Lazarev/Chris Coen; Autonomous Films; 2006)

“Having some laughs over suicide.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An indie black comedy directed and written by Goran Dukic (“How I Saved the World”), the Croatian born filmmaker who studied at the American Film Institute, that splays modern culture with its absurd brand of humor; it’s based on the 1998 novella “Kneller’s Happy Campers” by Israeli writer Etgar Keret. It’s a strained sophomoric comedy for Gen-X-ers that offers a droll and gentle humored trip through purgatory (which might be the Israeli desert littered with war debris) that purports to tell us that being dead doesn’t mean you have to stop livin’ and with the hearty message that… like … dude, maybe it’s better to stay alive!

After breaking up with the love of his life, Zia (Patrick Fugit) commits suicide by slitting his wrists. But there’s no end to living, as Zia finds himself now in a quirky universe of an afterworld that seems similar but is even worse than the real world (everything is seedier and no one is allowed to smile). When Zia, working in the Kamikaze Pizza Shop, learns that his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) also offed herself a few weeks later and is also in this afterworld universe reserved for suicides, he sets out in a battered jalopy driven by his crude Russian rocker friend Eugene (Shea Whigham), a hapless skirt chaser whose entire family offed themselves while he electrocuted himself while playing electric guitar, to find her. Along the way the duo pick up the gritty Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who is hitchhiking to locate the authorities of the afterworld to explain she doesn’t belong here because she only accidentally overdosed and is in denial about her death. Further down the road they meet the gruffly avuncular, if you will, Kneller (Tom Waits), who plays some wise guy derelict wiseman of sorts who is searching for his lost dog by lying in the middle of the road and takes time off his own search to help the trio connect with their inner selves. The foursome come to the end of the road by meeting at a compound the false Messiah King (John Hawkes), who has gathered a large following of dolts and has Desiree by his side and Kneller’s lost dog. From all this muck, it somehow manages to come up with a whimsical Hollywood-like happy ending.

The problem is that even though it has charm and is well-constructed, the film itself is not funny (which is probably a matter of taste, but my taste buds didn’t find it funny or that it did enough to ferret out the ethical arguments over suicide that makes it so controversial). It also disappoints because it’s a one-note joke film and the barbs are too conventional to have much of an impact. The featured slackers are pleasant enough and sweetly help pass the time in this differently slanted zombie pic in a way that makes the best of a morbid situation by having some laughs over suicide, and it should please the viewer who can dig its warped deadpan humor more than I did.

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