A wonderfully out-there slacker comedy that’s as tight as a drum in script, direction and performances, “Late Night Shopping” announces a striking creative combo in helmer Saul Metzstein, writer John Lothian and producer Angus Lamont that recalls the synergy and freshness of “Shallow Grave” in its own time. Though less punchy and more slow-burning than the 1994 pic that launched the Boyle-Hodge-Macdonald trio, “Shopping” more than delivers the goods in its own quieter, likable way. Result poses something of a distribution challenge, given its lack of stars, visual flash or guns ‘n’ action, but a long-limbed marketing campaign, in which word of mouth and critical support are allowed to build, could result in better than solid numbers.
Though they previously worked together on a short film and Channel 4 documentary, “Shopping” marks the feature bow of both Glasgow-born Metzstein, 29, and Lothian, 26. With only the catchy title to begin with, the project was scripted, financed and ready to roll in only 18 months, followed by six weeks’ shooting in Glasgow early last summer. (“Grave” was also a FilmFour production shot in Glasgow with considerable Scottish talent behind the lens.)
Set in no particular city (though accents suggest southern England), “Shopping” eases slowly into its skin, starting out like a British diner movie. Four friends who work nights congregate each evening at a nondescript cafe.
Flashiest is Vincent (James Lance), a shelf-filler in a supermarket and a serial philanderer. At the opposite end of the personality spectrum is Lenny (Enzo Cilenti), a nerd with a necktie, who works for directory inquiries and suffers from porno delusions.
Quieter, but definitely weirder, is Sean (Luke de Woolfson), a night worker in a hospital who has a Beatles mop and carries round a bar of soap. Lone femme in the group is Jody (Kate Ashfield, from “The Low Down”), a laddette with a sharp tongue who works on a computer production line and nags Sean about his g.f. problem.
Pic’s first act is very loosely constructed. Vincent’s mantra in life is that he only ever shags a girl three times: In a funny scene, typical of the movie’s humor, he’s seen explaining this to a conquest whose shelf-life has just expired.
Lenny is trying to pluck up the courage to ask out a woman at work (Shauna MacDonald), and Sean meets a mysterious blonde (Sienna Guillory, from “Sorted”) whose boyfriend is unconscious in one of his hospital’s beds. Jody is unattached, but one senses a lingering attraction to Vincent.
Just when you feel you’re getting to know these likable losers, but are starting to wonder where the movie is leading, the film suddenly throws a couple of wrenches in the works. Like a bee to a honeypot, the Alfie-esque Vincent picks up a sad-looking young foreign woman (Heike Makatsch) and, before you can say her name — Madeline Zozzocolovich — they’re back at her place for a quick tumble.
Meanwhile, Sean and the blonde end up in her b.f.’s hospital bed, and Lenny’s attempts to date his work colleague go from bad to worse.
The measure of Lothian’s sure-paced writing is that the understated comedy finally clicks into place in the third act, as the whole group sets off to track down Madeline in a small seaside town. In all its twists and turns, and emotional gaffes, this section reaps a satisfying harvest from its earlier seeding.
In her first English-speaking role, German actress Makatsch (so good in the recent “Gripsholm”) more than holds her own.
The four main thesps gradually develop a real chemistry, with only the excellent Ashfield shortchanged as a fully exploited character. MacDonald comes into her own late on as Lenny’s no-nonsense Scottish date, and even former model Guillory is well-cast in the smaller role of Sean’s nympho one-nighter.
Running time under Justine Wright’s scissors is admirably trim, and Metzstein maintains a snappy pace without resorting to visual show-offery or musical montages. Lensing by Brian Tufano (“Trainspotting,” “Billy Elliot”) is precise and well-lit, with a very light gloss.