Review: ‘Paint Cans’

How to navigate the pitfalls of a government film fund and make your little screen gem is the theme of "Paint Cans." While it speaks the universal language of bureaucratese, pic is a little too close to the truth and lacks the comic outrage to connect in a significant way outside its Canadian milieu. Still, it has a nice deadpan quality that could appeal in specialized release in selected markets.

How to navigate the pitfalls of a government film fund and make your little screen gem is the theme of “Paint Cans.” While it speaks the universal language of bureaucratese, pic is a little too close to the truth and lacks the comic outrage to connect in a significant way outside its Canadian milieu. Still, it has a nice deadpan quality that could appeal in specialized release in selected markets.

Wick Burns (Chas Lawther) is a career government official who fully understands that appearing to be busy and attentive is even better than actually being in the fray. His latest dilemma is an arty little ditty entitled “Paint Cans.” The project marks the theatrical directing debut of Vittorio Russo (Bruce Greenwood), who went to film school with Wick, and is produced by the sleazy but politically effective Neville Lewis (Andy Jones). No one in the Film Finance Office of Canada particularly likes the proposal, but a simple denial would be too fast and simple.

So, they hedge their bets by checking out the response at other funding agencies. The prospect of script development money is tossed around and, like shifting political winds, the attitude to fund or not to fund blows hot and cold.

Writer/director Paul Donovan is also guilty of playing too many angles. The internecine maneuvers within the agency are ample grist for the narrative mill. He delineates Burns quite well by showing the way he operates. But he then dilutes the broth by entering into Burns’ home life and his bizarre relationship with a cantankerous dad (Don Francks) who considers him a professional and moral washout.

More effective is the official’s budding romance with Arundel (Robyn Stevan), a journalist he meets in Cannes. It indicates his vulnerability and how love might humanize even someone trained to be a government automaton.

Lawther, in his unflappable role, is an interesting centerpiece to the action. Supporting characters are familiar types given little new spin or oddball quirks, which creates a certain sameness that teeters on the deadly and flattens any possibility of tension, danger or hilarity.

A polished if modest production, the film has a pleasant quality. That might be a step up from the efforts backed by the somewhat fictional agency. Still, it’s a long shot from the cure to mediocrity it so obviously disdains.

Paint Cans

(CANADIAN)

Production

A Libra Films release of a Salter Street production. Produced by Paul Donovan , Michael Mahoney. Directed, written by Donovan, based upon his book.

Crew

Camera (color), Les Krizsan; editor, David Ostry; music, Marty Simon; art direction, Shelley Nieder; sound, Allan Scarth, Alec Salter; associate producers, Benedict O'Halloran, Alan MacGillivray; assistant director, Cordell Wynne. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 13, 1994. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Wick Burns ... Chas Lawther Arundel Merton ... Robyn Stevan Vittorio Musso ... Bruce Greenwood Bryson Vautour ... Nigel Bennett Maitland Burns ... Don Francks Neville Lewis ... Andy Jones Morton Ridgewell ... Paul Gross Inge Von Nerthus ... Ann Marie MacDonald
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