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LAFF Review: Passenger Side

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A missed opportunity. | Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Film Festival

One of the reasons I expect that I will never tire of going to the movies is that even when you think you know what you are going to get, you can still be surprised. I remember being dragged to see Galaxy Quest at the Cinerama Dome. Honestly, the only reason I went was because it was at the Cinerama Dome -- one of the great movie theaters on the planet. As for the film, I expected nothing. I mean, after all, it starred Tim Allen! Tim Allen? Pass. Naturally, I ended up loving the film and have seen it at least twenty times since.

Of course, surprises aren't always positive. When I originally saw the schedule for the Los Angeles Film Festival, Passenger Side was one of the films that stuck out as a must-see. For me at least, it had everything going for it: it was a cheap indie with an open-ended premise that offered numerous story directions and, most importantly, it starred one of my favorite lesser-known actors, Adam Scott. As I sat in the Regent waiting for it to start, I was honestly excited. Unfortunately, that excitement ended almost instantly.

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Too on the nose. | Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Film Festival

My least favorite device in a film is the constantly ringing telephone. It's such a cheap way to aggravate the audience that I turn off immediately when the director presents it. This is how Passenger Side begins: with a ringing telephone that won't fucking stop. Of course, that's not enough to ruin a film for me, but it certainly fouled my mood. The story proper would only poison it further. Scott plays the mostly normal brother of your garden-variety, former drug-addict fuck-up. Naturally, he's the one who's calling at the first crack of morning.

From there the premise of the film lifts off very quickly. Basically, Scott is tasked with driving his estranged brother around town on a yet unspecified mission. It's station-to-station storytelling at it's least imaginative. Initially, Scott thinks his brother is just fishing around for a working drug connection, but eventually we learn that the brother is looking for the love of his life so that he can rescue her from the hell of addiction. At least that's what he says. Scott's character is naturally suspicious and, yet, on (and on and on) they go.

There's no point in getting any further into the specifics of the story since, frankly, the plot of the film isn't what the film is about anyway. It's about the relationship of these two brothers and how that relationship is going to work going forward. Scott is, as expected, superb in delivering the material that he's given, but the material really lacks in both invention and reality. You know those movies where characters talk in dialogue so arch and precious and obviously scripted that you immediately disconnect from the film? That's Passenger Side.

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It's supposed to funny and wry, but mostly it's just annoying. Some people might argue that it's incredibly difficult to stage a film where the only thing that's happening is two characters talking to each other, but that's exactly what a film like Humpday does and it does so brilliantly. Humor works best when it doesn't derive purely from language; situation is a necessary component and that's where Passenger Side fails. There's nothing inherently compelling about a drive around Los Angeles with two disappointed, depressed slackers.

It sort of bothers me to have to so thoroughly pan a film like Passenger Side. I admire the effort of all involved since mounting a cheap indie is a monumental effort of will and belief. And, honestly, we need more movies like this, not less. However, I can't recommend this film to anyone in search of a good festival film. That said, put the name Adam Scott on your radar. Many of you will know him from his surreally brilliant turn as Derek in last year's Step Brothers. I'll keep looking for his films, hoping that Passenger Side was just a bad blip.

Passenger Side screens for a final time on Thursday at 4:30 pm at the Landmark Theater. Tickets are $12 and are still available.