Cross one of Hal Hartley's deadpan farces with a 1940s film noir, then add a touch of "Forrest Gump" to the mix, and you have "George B.," a slight but sporadically amusing comedy. Theatrical prospects are doubtful, but this small-budget indie may click with video and pay-cable viewers.

Cross one of Hal Hartley’s deadpan farces with a 1940s film noir, then add a touch of “Forrest Gump” to the mix, and you have “George B.,” a slight but sporadically amusing comedy. Theatrical prospects are doubtful, but this small-budget indie may click with video and pay-cable viewers.

Pic gets considerable mileage from David Morse’s nicely nuanced performance in the title role. Morse plays George as a simple-minded but by no means stupid fellow whose sunny optimism is severely tested by the craftier folks around him. Comparisons to Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning turn as Forrest Gump are inevitable, but Morse provides enough shadings to make his character fully persuasive, if not unique.

George is a part-time janitor at a neighborhood bar where he’s frequently the butt of not-so-friendly kidding. After he wins a considerable bankroll during a brief Reno vacation, he invites Angela (Nina Siemaszko), a discount-store clerk, to live with him.

Early on, it’s clear to everyone but George that, despite her deceptively sweet smile, Angela is a cynical slattern who’s not to be trusted. Angela is on bad terms with her coldly manipulative mother (Grace Zabriskie), and, apparently, she moves in with George just so she can move away from home.

Using his Reno winnings as venture capital, George starts a janitorial business. Unfortunately, he’s much too trustworthy. He befriends Jerry (Brad Gregg), a handsome young drifter, and hires him to work as a driver. Angela takes one look at this hunk and likes what she sees. While Jerry likes George too much to respond to Angela’s come-on, it doesn’t stop him from running off with George’s savings.

Writer-director Eric Lea, an editor making his feature filmmaking debut, laces the standard-issue film noir elements – the handsome drifter, the mercenary femme fatale – with poker-faced humor. George’s repeated insistence that “everything’s great” becomes an absurdly funny running gag.Unfortunately, “George B.” is too thinly written to be consistently involving. The slack pacing only serves to underscore the blandness of several scenes. Some of the supporting players – most notably, the usually reliable Zabriskie – try too hard to wring laughs from dialogue that isn’t conspicuously funny. At 98 minutes, pic seems padded.

Even so, Siemaszko is effectively cast in a tricky role, while Gregg makes an ingratiating impression. Other supporting players of note include John Franklin as Little Mike, George’s whiny co-worker and housemate, and Brad Garrett as a blustery security guard who smokes too much for his own good.

Tech credits are adequate but unremarkable.

George B.

Production

A Tango West presentation. Produced by Wade W. Danielson, Gloria Pryor. Executive producer, Mark Terry. Directed, written by Eric Lea.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Wayne Kennan; editor, Pamela Raymer; music, David Reynolds; production design, Susan Karasic; costume design, Heidi Higginbotham; sound (Dolby), John Lusitana, Eric Marin; assistant director, Stacy Fish; casting, Aaron Griffith. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 20, 1997. Running time: 98 min.

With

George - David Morse
Angela - Nina Siemaszko
Jerry - Brad Gregg
Little Mike - John Franklin
The Mother - Grace Zabriskie
Johnny - Henry V. Brown Jr.
Security Guard - Brad Garrett
Frank - Lee Tergesen
Ken - Marcelo Tubert
Tom - Dennis Hayden
Eddie Paul - Dion Monte
Lee - Gene Borkan
Loan Officer - Richard Gross
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