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Chuck & Buck   C-

Artisan Entertainment

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Mike White
Cast: Mike White, Chris Weitz, Lupe Ontiveros, Beth Colt, Paul Weitz.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

I didn't like this film. There's some talent on display in Chuck & Buck, but it feels like a film Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) might have made years ago, then shoved under a rug because he realized that it wasn't any good.

But, of course, Todd Solondz didn't make this wanna-be cutting edge independent film. It's written by Mike White (who also stars as the Blow Pop-sucking man-child protagonist), a producer and writer for TV's Dawson's Creek and the short-lived Freaks and Geeks. It's directed by Miguel Arteta, who made 1997's little-seen Star Maps. Chuck & Buck is a strange monster, that's for sure. It seems the filmmakers are shooting for that Todd Solondz brand of twisted dark humor, but here it just feels really, really wrong (not to mention vaguely homophobic).

In the first minutes of the film, we're introduced to Buck (Mike White), a 27-year-old who talks and acts like he's 11 or so. He still lives with his mother, and his bedroom is filled with just as many fun toys as it was back when he was kid. Buck's mother dies, and he invites his childhood friend Chuck (Chris Weitz) to the funeral. They haven't seen each other for about 15 years, and now Chuck has a fiancee (Beth Colt) and a fast-track gig as a record label executive in Los Angeles.

After the funeral, Buck makes a sexual advance toward his old buddy Chuck, who gets freaked out, grabs his fiancee and high-tails it back to L.A. Eventually Buck packs up all his toys and moves out to L.A. himself, so that he can be closer to his old friend. It's here that Chuck & Buck becomes a strangely unsettling stalker comedy. An annoying, repetitive one at that.

Whilst stalking his old pal, Buck decides that he's going to put on a play a local community theater. The theater manager, Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros), will direct it even though she has no prior directing experience. The play, called Hank & Frank, has a lot to do with Chuck and Buck's very "special" childhood friendship.

Sitting through this maddening black comedy was quite an ordeal because we're never quite at ease while the main character is on-screen. But Mike White's performance -- as a child trapped in man's body, a real case of arrested development -- is close to amazing. Watching him is uncomfortable, even embarrassing. It's hard to feel sympathy for such a pathetic character. We watch him in dumb-founded shock and we end up pitying the poor bastard, but never really feeling for him. Like Chuck, we just wish he would go away.

Chuck & Buck has some funny lines of dialogue, like when Beverly tells Buck, "I see your play as a homoerotic misogynistic love story." That line works better in the film, trust me. But despite some admittedly funny moments -- and a good supporting cast that includes American Pie director Paul Weitz in an a very amusing role -- Chuck & Buck is still a tragic misfire. The shot-on-digital video quality adds an intimate realism that might have worked if I hadn't found many of the situations and character actions so hard to swallow.

There's a scene in the film where Buck reveals to Beverly (the director of his play) that he's scared. "I miss my mom," he says. And for a moment, I was touched and actually felt sympathy for this strange, sad, irritating character. But, of course, it was only a moment.

Review published 08.11.2000.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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