Impressively, this ultra-quirky American indie is wrong on just about every level imaginable.
Even though Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund kick-started his career as a producer of cutting-edge music promos ('Smack My Bitch Up' remains his puke-lashed magnum opus), his subsequent graduation into feature film making has resulted in botch job after botch job after botch job. This latest, a grotesque quirk-com that plays like a happy-clappy remake of his revolting, slickly-rendered addiction thriller, Spun, may be a botch job to crown all botch jobs.
Adapted by Chris Millis from his own 2001 novel, Small Apartments is one of those movies that boasts a huge cast of wacky characters but offers little reason for any of them to want to boast about it on their respective CVs. Matt Lucas plays lovably goofy denuded maniac Franklin Franklin (sic) who skulks around his grubby apartment blowing an alpine horn, drinking fizzy pop and listening to the tapes sent from his beloved brother who's been detained in a psych ward.
Lucas's character exists in a weird paradox whereby we're asked to both gaffaw at the manifold misfortunes that befall him on an almost minute-by-minute basis, but also remain sensitive to the fact that he's clearly a damaged soul and that his eccentric behaviour is rooted in horrendous past traumas. It's a big ask on the part of Åkerlund, akin to Reeves and Mortimer demanding we look deep into the fractured, psychotic soul of oversized baby drummer, George Dawes.
There's no real over-arching drama here, more a awkward tangle of toss-away moments and interactions which are intended to offer snapshots of people all finding it tough to adapt to 21st Century LA life. Juno Temple goes autopilot as the minx across the way looking to get out of Dodge and make her name in a dance club, James Caan is a yappy neighbour who's irked by Franklin's weird tendencies and Johnny Knoxville is a philosophically-inclined, bong-hitting convenience store clerk who feels like he's been inexpertly teleported in from a particularly bad Kevin Smith movie.
Aside from its lamentably glib attitude towards sex and violence (brain tumors played for laughs anyone?) and its near total dearth of laughs, Small Apartments' main concern is its complete rejection of any recognisable human sensitivity. Everyone and everything is so gaudy and broad, that it's not merely difficult to care for these people, it's difficult to even identify what their problems are.
This posturing sense of nihilism is reflected in some of its baffling casting choices, with Dolph Lundgren turning up as a perma-tanned quack shilling his a book on exercising your brain muscle and – get this – Billy Crystal as a lackadaisical, hard-boiled detective who's been put on the trail of Franklin to discover if he killed his vile landlord.
Matt Lucas gets to star in his own American indie... Stranger things have happened.
Kinda chronic. Quirk-by-numbers with zero laughs and zero insights.
When Johnny Knoxville is your MVP, it's maybe time to go back to the drawing board.