This slacker spin on "Annie Hall" doesn't quite make up in verbal intelligence what it lacks in visual flair, saddled with sitcom rhythms and video flatness. More likeable than accomplished, pic's smart-ass puns and sardonic asides yield some witty repartee, and its relentless obsession with relationships includes occasional sharp social observations.

This slacker spin on “Annie Hall” doesn’t quite make up in verbal intelligence what it lacks in visual flair, saddled with sitcom rhythms and video flatness. More likeable than accomplished, pic’s smart-ass puns and sardonic asides yield some witty repartee, and its relentless obsession with relationships includes occasional sharp social observations. Dorm room philosophizing about romance gets stale quickly, however, and callow cast founders when “Annie” ventures into deeper emotional waters. Nevertheless, tons of ‘tude and target demographics may overcome pic’s mostly amateurish feel and nab it a cable slot.

Tyro scripter/helmer team of Van Flesher and Zack Ordynans shifts tonal gears constantly as pic drifts closer or farther from its “Annie Hall” underpinnings. Opening, a visual matchup by hero Max (Gary Lundy) and sidekick Charles (Brian Klugman) of Woody Allen/Tony Roberts conversational strolls, tweaks the absurdism of a teenage WASP emulating the whiny paranoia of a middle-aged Jew.

Pic then drops the literal homage to indulge in looser Allen-derived direct-to-the-camera interplay, accompanied with some nice post-modernist twists. Speaking to the audience from the booth of his overnight radio show, Max reconstructs his past, commenting on the resurrected scenes. Sometimes, the people in the flashback frame see him and join in the self-reflection: one ex-girlfriend, for instance, steps beyond the tableau to a differently-lit part of the stage to comment, “This is a fantasy extrapolated from a flashback. How could I lie to you?”

But once Max meets his own Annie Hall in the person of Julie (Sara Downing), the stylistic flourishes fall by the wayside, and the film becomes a more pedestrian look at the rocky road to commitment here, Julie and Max’s class differences sub for Annie and Woody’s Alvy’s religious differences. Meanwhile, best friend Beth (a luminous Kim Murphy Zandell) waits in the wings.

Pic relies on nerdy world-weary irony to carry the day, but doesn’t convincingly draw its characters.

Tech credits were impossible to judge in the low-def, poorly color-timed Beta copy on view at the Hamptons.

Burning Annie

Production

An Armak production. Produced by Randy Mack. Directed by Van Flesher. Screenplay, Zack Ordynans.

Crew

Camera (color, 24p-to-35mm-- shown in Beta), Stephan Schultze; editor, Randy Mack; music, Dean Harada; production designers, Kenn Coplan, Jennifer Copp; sound (Dolby SR), Jeremy Hoenack; casting, Shana Landsburg. Reviewed at Hamptons Film Festival (Golden Starfish Fiction Competition), Oct. 24, 2003. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Gary Lundy, Sara Downing, Kim Murphy Zandell, Brian Klugman, Jay Paulson, Rini Bell, Todd Duffey, Kathleen Rose Perkins.
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