Monday, May 31, 2004

Haiku Tunnel
Review by Sombrero Grande

Saw Haiku Tunnel.
Occasionally funny.
A disappointment.

Overall I found Haiku Tunnel to be an overwhelmingly mediocre film. There are some scattered humorous moments, but for the most part it feels like the film was created by the “funny” guy at your office, the one who thinks he’s much funnier than he actually is and only occasionally comes up with something surprisingly humorous to say. In fact there’s a lot about Haiku Tunnel that reminds me about working in an office. For one, the whole thing is rather tedious and sometimes frustrating; the people you see aren’t particularly photogenic or interesting and you find yourself frequently glancing up at the clock, counting down until it’s over and you can go do something fun instead.

Want proof of how tedious this movie can be? The big climactic scene at the end shows the unappealing lead character slowly licking envelopes closed one by one as an elderly man gradually pushes a mail cart towards his desk. Wheee!

Want proof of how unappealing the lead character is? Remember the “funny” guy at the office I mentioned earlier? Picture him looking like--and Sombrero Grande is not trying to be mean here--Danny DeVito ate Weird Al Yankovic. Writer/director/star Josh Kornbluth looks like a funny monologue artist, or maybe a neurotic software engineer, but not a movie star. His eyes often bulge out while addressing the audience and I can’t really remember him blinking. Now, Sombrero Grande isn’t saying he demands every leading man must look like Orlando Bloom, but come on. There’s one scene in particular where Josh is illuminated from below by the green lights of a printer that I almost couldn’t watch because the way the light contorted his round face he looked like a scary version of the moon in A Trip to the Moon.

The story follows Josh--playing himself even though at the start of the film he makes a purposefully lame attempt to assert that he’s playing a fictional “Josh”--an office temp who loves temping (or does he? Seriously, I’m not sure) who is offered a “perm” position his first day at a new office. Josh says he’s an extremely efficient temp, but as soon as he is brought onto the staff full-time, Josh looses all his steam and the only thing he does “full-time” is goof off and work on his novel. What I had a hard time swallowing was WHY he was offered a full-time position after he hadn’t even been working at the office for a full day yet. Yeah, he was very productive that first day, but this was supposed to be a commentary on real-life workplaces and this plot point did not seem very grounded in reality to me.

Other even more confusing-to-the-point-of-aggravating plot points are in store as we trudge farther into Haiku Tunnel. We know from the beginning of the film that Josh isn’t going to mail the 17 high-priority letters his boss keeps asking him to, but the story keeps insulting us with the lame reasons why he doesn’t. I began to feel a deep loathing for Josh when he, knowing that his job is on the line, decides to go on a date before simply licking the envelopes closed. Instead, he LEAVES THE ENVELOPES AT THE OFFICE SO HE CAN COME BACK LATER TO SEAL THEM! Oh please. Someone please punch this guy for me because I’m becoming too apathetic about this character to even do that.

Josh’s boss, “Bob”, is made out to be a Satan-like figure whose last secretary went completely insane, but the audience never sees Bob at anytime in the film actually being mean, cruel, evil or even a little unpleasant. He came across to me as being an okay guy. Office Space's Bill Lumberg could out “bad-boss” Bob with one sigh and a “yyyeah” any day.

If you’re looking for any character development in Haiku Tunnel, Bob should be an indication that you’ll be looking awfully hard and finding very little. The other secretaries at Josh’s new office can be ultra-quickly summed up as “the one who sings”, “the quiet one” and “the gay one.” That’s it. Even Josh is a bland, uninteresting figure. At one point he asks out “the quiet one” who has shown no interest in him at all and she turns him down. It’s a plot point that is very quick and inconsequential, rather unlike the movie as a whole, which is also inconsequential but far from quick.

In the closing credits I saw that this film is based on a monologue by Kornbluth and suddenly it all made sense. Nearly the entire film is delivered monologue-style with Josh’s running commentary moving the story forward every step of the way. I can imagine his monologue performance, spinning a sarcastic yarn about working as a temp becoming “perm”, must have been a hoot to watch live, but as a film it has many weaknesses.

I picture one fateful night someone planted the idea in Josh’s brain: your monologue would make a great movie. Look at Dilbert. Look at Office Space. Office commentary comedies are “in” right now, just give your movie a pretentious-enough-sounding title and you’re sure to hit in the indie theaters!

There used to be a show on Comedy Central called Pulp Comics where comedians would do their stand-up routines and occasionally act out a joke of theirs in skit format with sets, costumes, other actors, etc.--at least that’s what I think it was. I never actually watched the show; just saw the commercials for it. The skits, the performed jokes, never seemed particularly funny to me…which was probably why I never watched the show. It felt like the sets, costumes, etc. all combined to wipe nearly all the humor from the joke. These were oral gags, audible stories that would come to fruition in an audience member’s mind; what made them funny was picturing them in our own heads. Staging the whole thing so that every detail was right there in front of you was like drawing a diagram to explain why something is funny.

THAT’S why when I saw that Haiku Tunnel was based on a monologue it suddenly all made sense. I could picture the story being funny and entertaining as an aural performance, but all the staging that went into “bringing it to the screen” robbed it of the audience’s ability to create the world in their own heads. To put themselves in Josh’s place. To envision the office, the boss, the coworkers, everything in a way that would personalize it and make it relevant to THEM. Instead, I found Haiku Tunnel, as a film, to be rather tedious, disinteresting, flat and even frustrating at times with only sporadically funny bits and moments.


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