Adeadpan comedy/film noir, “Spare Me” has its share of fresh angles, but in attempting to muscle in on the suburban mystique terrain of indie exponents like Hal Hartley, it’s knowing to the point of self-consciousness. Beyond the college circuit, it looks like a low-scorer commercially.
N.Y. filmmaker Matthew Harrison’s micro-budget debut feature steps into the seemingly innocuous bowling milieu and opens up a menacingly weird can of worms.
The basic idea is familiar off-Hollywood fodder: Mysterious out-of-town dude with cool sideburns breezes into Normalsville, kicks the lid off a cesspool of no-gooders and nutcases and hooks up with a local bad girl along the way.
The dude here is ace sportsman Theo (Lawton Paseka). Suspended from pro bowling for braining his opponent, he tracks down his absentee father (Mark Alfred), hoping that dad’s legendary status in the sport will get him reinstated.
Dad’s in deep with a crooked bowling alley-owner Miles Kastle (Richard W. Sears Jr.).
While Theo weighs the ethics of accepting sponsorship from Kastle, he gets romantically entangled with Kastle’s troubled daughter (Christie MacFadyen).
She, in turn, is irked by the unbrotherly affections of her unhinged sibling (Bill Christ), who’s just escaped from a psychiatric hospital. Theo becomes a pawn in their insidious individual plans, but following some twisted plot subterfuge and a gruesome death on the pin-stacking machine, he eventually gets back in the game.
Harrison’s resourceful direction brings a sharp look and sound to the shoestring venture, playing up, rather than trying to cover up, the raw edges imposed by limited technical means.
But the film wavers noncommittally between styles and tones. Dialogue is straight-out noirspeak, but the stylized camerawork, off-the-wall characters and arbitrarily over-the-top performances don’t fit the mold.
Result is an affable but relatively formless pastiche that gets by on reckless energy and charismatic leads.