The choice between a life of predictable stability in New Jersey or the allure of the hip downtown Manhattan scene forms the central dilemma of “Jersey Guy,” a lank seriocomedy that makes neither the bridge-and-tunnel crowd nor the Gotham glamazons look especially interesting or attractive. Filmed in 2000 — as evidenced by the Twin Towers shots — and opening today on two New York screens, Elia Zois’ semi-autobiographical debut feature is passingly engaging and blandly competent as filmmaking, but has too little spark to be commercially viable.
Pic was written by the director with his father Christ Zois, whose previous screenwriting credits both on Abel Ferrara’s ponderously self-indulgent “The Blackout” and “New Rose Hotel” gave zero indication of an aptitude for comedy. That feeling is amply borne out by the lifeless writing here.
Good-natured nursing home staffer Jack (Steve Parlavecchio) still lives with his folks at 25 and is unable to commit to marriage with Susan (Stacy Mistysyn), his girlfriend of seven years. A rare trip to Manhattan and an encounter at a SoHo club with sleek model Samantha (Jill Wolfe) plant the idea in Jack’s head that he’s missing out on something. Inventing excuses to keep Susan in the dark as he romances Sam, Jack exchanges his plaid shirt and chinos for a black suit and goes from Jersey pizza joints to hobnobbing in the Hamptons with a bunch of bored — and boring, though he seems oblivious to this — sophisticates.
Too little time is invested in Jack’s scenes with either Susan or Sam to make the audience care much where he decides to settle. Instead, his conflict is aired mainly in overlong dialogue exchanges with his father (Arthur Nascarella), whose reflections on mortality and happiness only add to his son’s unrest.
While some supporting cast are a little stiff and self-conscious, the principals are not unappealing. But the unfocused writing makes the film increasingly less convincing as it stumbles toward an awkwardly structured resolution — closing on a conga line that makes “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” seem cutting-edge. There’s also a dream sequence that’s a real cringe-inducer. Director Zois has an uneven grasp of comic timing and rhythm, with the paucity of music further accentuating the sluggish pace.