Egh. What's This?

It sure ain't the definitive Big Apple

These reviews are part of our continuing coverage of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.

New York City Serenade. Call the culture cops. This piece of schmaltz has no more reference to New York than a cheese steak sandwich or a chili dog, unless you count Freddie Prinze Jr.'s confused outer-borough gaze. ("Egh. What's that?" he says, gesturing with his chin, after his girlfriend has introduced him to her mincing French professor.) Prinze's character, Owen, and his pal Ray (Chris Klein) are two hapless losers who suspect that life has, through no fault of their own, dealt them a rotten hand. Ray plays drums in a rock 'n' roll band, but he's a hopeless drunk who crashes other people's parties and steals things. Owen, a would-be filmmaker (he took a four-week course and entered a contest) is starting to wake up to his shortcomings, especially after his girlfriend (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Tony's daughter in The Sopranos) dumps him for accepting a blowjob at a party. But Owen still schlumps around being sorry all the time. The guys go off to a film festival somewhere in the hinterlands (not FLIFF), where they run into a grumpy Wallace Shawn (playing himself, at the festival to accept a lifetime achievement award) and get into all sorts of trouble. Not to worry, though. There's a coda, showing the boys two years later, saying mature things about assuming responsibility for themselves. Just like that — all growed up. Not much to nosh on here, though Klein shows that he has a promising future as a riveting, bad-ass, nihilistic no-goodnik. (Saturday, November 10, 8:45 p.m., Cinema Paradiso. 95 minutes.) Edmund Newton

The Chosen One is so thoroughly quotable, absurdly funny, and relentlessly imaginative that it deserves some sort of an indie award of its own. How about "most likely to become a cult classic"? It's a Flash-animated, existential road-trip flick, with Tim Curry as the voice of Satan. Good and evil take the form of ninjas, giant rodents, cockroaches, femme fatales, and an army of ass-kicking rabbis and priests, all battling over the fate of the world. Writers Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer clearly have experience with improvisational comedy. How else to explain all the absurdly implausible scenarios that could have been constructed only with radical, riffing leaps of the imagination? Still, well-defined characters help to keep the film cohesive; even when circumstances are at their kookiest, nothing feels random. When Lou Hanske (Chad Fifer) gets kicked out of school, loses his job, has his car smashed by a Chinese satellite, and gets attacked by a bear, isn't it logical that he'd take that job as a mercenary messiah on a mission to Kansas? Sure it is. Lou — along with his cantankerous roommate (Chris Sarandon) and witty best friend (Danielle "Topenga" Fishel) — learns some important lessons about good and evil on his mission. By the end, you're somehow left with a reassuring spiritual sense that the world is unfolding as it should — thanks to, rather than in spite of, the film's goofy religiosity. (Sunday, November 11, Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center, 3 p.m. 80 minutes.) Marya Summers

The Cake Eaters. There's so much that's lovely about this domestic drama that it seems churlish to point out its liabilities, chief among them a script (by Jayce Bartok, one of the stars) that's trite and predictable. The contemporary setting is an unspecified small town in upstate New York, where three very different relationships are paralleled. Bruce Dern, in a performance that can be characterized only as "grizzled," plays butcher Easy, who has lost his wife and has been carrying on a lengthy affair with another woman (Elizabeth Ashley, whiskey-and-cigarette purr intact). Bartok is his estranged older son, back home after a failed attempt to make it in the music business and out to reconnect with the fiancée he abandoned. And Aaron Stanford is Easy's younger son, an amiable slacker who haltingly enters a relationship with a teenager (Kristen Stewart, who recalls the young Ally Sheedy) with a double liability: She's the granddaughter of Easy's mistress, and she has a degenerative neuromuscular disease that assures a premature death. It's all as contrived as it sounds, but the generally remarkable cast makes the most of it, thanks to the understated direction of actress Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes), making her directorial debut. Masterson has a great sense of place and a feel for the rhythms of daily life that make this material far more palatable than it might have been in other hands. (Thursday, November 8, 7 p.m.; and Friday, November 9, 9 p.m., Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center. 95 minutes.) Michael Mills

The Magicians. The real trick here is a disappearing act — as in: "Where did the magic go?" If you want a spell-binding night of illusion, you're not going to get it from this film. The movie is a buddy film about two stage magicians, with one buddy (Robert Webb) boinking the other's wife. The cuckolded husband (David Mitchell) accidentally beheads the wife during a guillotine trick, and then the two magicians spend the rest of the movie working through their issues. It all comes to a head (so to speak) at a competition for a coveted prize. Surely, a plot built for laughs, right? The film wastes the talent of the British comic duo Mitchell and Webb, stars of the British sitcom Peep Show, who are clearly meant for comedy and not for sleight of hand. Though writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain are responsible both for Peep Show and The Magicians, there are few laughs in the film. There is, however, plenty of time to put money in the parking meter, get popcorn, make a phone call, and play a pickup game of hoops between the funny bits. While Mitchell creates a terrific emotionally injured doofus in his character and Webb plays a wonderful con man with a heart of gold, most of the laughs come from the supporting cast. Notable is Jessica Hynes as Harry's replacement assistant, who auditions with a dance so terrible that it may become famous in its own right. Darren Boyd, playing the agent with sleazy panache, ends up stealing the show. (Saturday, November 10, Cinema Paradiso, 5 and 7 p.m. 87 minutes.) — Summers

 
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