When a critic reviews an independent movie, he realizes it has the creator's heart and soul in it. He may cut it some slack.
Ron Beck wrote and directed the indie The Mini on a budget of $25,000. It has some stylistic grace, and obviously is a work of heart and soul. But Beck left his wit out of it -- and that's the rub.
A comedy lacking wit has troubles.
The Mini is the uneven story of Francis Molon (Larry Dahlke), a futon salesman who aspires to be promoted to selling mattresses. Beck is in trouble right there -- the concept is shaky.
In Francis's quest after mattresses, he makes a wager with his boss and a snarky, competitive mattress salesman that if he wins the local mini marathon he will get the position of assistant manager. His competition is the slick salesman who always wins.
Francis always has thought of himself as a loser. Can he win the race, the promotion, and the girl?
In the final credits, Beck thanks Indiana University, but this is not exactly Breaking Away.
Beck doesn't have a smart sense of comedy. Most of his scenes lack freshness. I only laughed once, when in a diner Francis' friend Dale (Jeff Stockberger) in a moment of truth blurts, "You think I wouldn't rather be in a car."
Ironically Beck's strength is when he employs humanity. The scene in the diner is an example of that.
But Beck utilizes a cartoon aspect that doesn't work. You can be cartoonish, satiric, and human at the same time, but it takes very artful ability. That's a little out of Beck's range.
Most of his comedy is lazy -- an old man on a cart driving slowly in the race.
And the writing often is amateurish.
Beck is fairly well served by his actors. Larry Dahlke, who plays Francis, looks like Judd Nelson, and he has Ray Romano's look of constipation down pat.
Angie Craft, the woman Francis pursues, has a Mary Steenburgen quality. And Chris Stack brings some dimension to Francis' rival Rick -- a role that could easily have been one dimensional. Jeff Stockberger as Francis' loyal friend grows on you.
But the humanity doesn't kick in until halfway through the movie, and even then it is inchoate. The humor never catches up.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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