Can a film bereft of plot and compelling characters survive on quirks alone? "There's No Fish Food in Heaven" resoundingly confirms that the answer is no. In this blackly comic rumination on good and evil, love and death, writer-director Eleanor E. Gaver has confused randomness and shock value with cleverness. Cast names will garner pic a certain amount of attention, but names alone are not enough to attract audiences to a film that makes no sense.

Can a film bereft of plot and compelling characters survive on quirks alone? “There’s No Fish Food in Heaven” resoundingly confirms that the answer is no. In this blackly comic rumination on good and evil, love and death, writer-director Eleanor E. Gaver has confused randomness and shock value with cleverness. Cast names will garner pic a certain amount of attention, but names alone are not enough to attract audiences to a film that makes no sense.

Proceedings begin with some stiff physical comedy as an alarm clock gets tangled in the hair of Mona (Fairuza Balk), a frustrated artist who spent the previous evening working on a grotesque painting of a church sculpture crushing the head of a beautiful girl. Jeff (Noah Taylor), her street-urchin, graffiti-artist b.f., is inexplicably head-over-heels for the pouty painter, even though she never returns his affection. Mona soon witnesses a horrible accident at a church, the same event she painted the evening before. At the last minute, she’s saved from death by a dark, mysterious stranger (Patrick Dempsey).

Quickly becoming obsessed with the stranger, Mona breaks off with Jeff. With the help of Mona’s boss at the pet store (Tea Leoni), Jeff mails himself to his true love, only to suffer the indignity of having Mona and the stranger copulate on the giant box while he’s inside it. As if that weren’t bad enough, Mona, in an attempt to open the box, jams a pair of scissors into Jeff’s skull, killing the poor sap.

Remainder of the action centers on frantic attempts to dispose of Jeff’s body properly so that his spirit, which sticks around to make wisecracks that only Mona can hear, can go on to the next plane. Assorted quirks-and-smirks characters pop up along the way as Mona learns to love her departed boyfriend, but she undergoes no meaningful transformation over the course of the film. Pic thus drifts into a nether world of baseless, look-at-me surrealism. As for comedy, Gaver relies too much on grotesque slapstick, rather than a more satisfying brand of character comedy.

Mona is an unappealing character with little depth, made more so by the anxious, nervous way Balk plays her. Taylor struggles to make sense of Jeff, whose most outstanding quality is his spinelessness.

While no one in the supporting cast is particularly bad, the relatively w.k. thesps are not well used, making the film seem all dressed up with no place to go. Leoni (also an exec producer) displays a knack for physical comedy, but otherwise her talents are wasted. Jeffrey Jones is good as a down-on-his luck minister, and indie mainstay James LeGros lends the film some street cred as a Walt Whitman–quoting carjacker. By far the most curious casting is that of Dempsey as the sexy, mute minion from hell: With 5 o’clock shadow and his hair combed up on the sides like devil ears, the former Neil Simon stalwart looks like a long lost member of the Backstreet Boys.

Tech credits are fine. The film’s best element is the artwork of both Mona and Jeff, which has a vitality and creativity that the movie itself lacks.

There's No Fish Food in Heaven

(COMEDY-FANTASY)

Production

A Storm Entertainment production. Produced by Jane Reardon, Terence Michael, Allan Mindell. Executive producers, H. Michael Hauser, Tea Leoni, Jay Firestone. Directed, written by Eleanor E. Gaver.

Crew

Camera (color), Pascal Lebeque; editor , Barbara Gies; music, Smokey Hormel, Joey Waronker; production designer, Susan Block; sound designer, Frederick Howard; costumes, Victoria Farrell; casting, Jeanne McCarthy. Reviewed at Hamptons Film Festival, Oct. 18, 1998. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Mona ..... Fairuza Balk Jeff ..... Noah Taylor Rosie ..... Debi Mazar Landeene ..... Tea Leoni D.J. ..... James LeGros The Stranger ..... Patrick Dempsey Minister Pete ..... Jeffrey Jones Tennant ..... Udo Kier Venessa ..... Caroline Aaron Stan/Suzie ..... K. Todd Freeman
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more