Quirky yet schematic, coincidence-fueled multi-character drama “Crash Test Dummies” is as obvious as its English-lingo title. This ambitious and deftly-told tale suffers from what might be called “Short Cuts” backlash, an often needless piling on of conflicted citizenry playing out narrative metaphors which are meant to be provocative but are cumulatively exhausting. Pic deserves prominent fest berths and will do well regionally and on homevid, but is less likely to make an impact in a global marketplace saturated with similar fare.
It’s 2004, a few days before the 10 newest European Union nations join the club. In a Vienna far removed from any postcard, penniless Romanian couple Ana (Maria Popistasu) and Nicolae (Bogdan Dumitrache) wander into the central train station. Unfortunately, the car they’re supposed to drive back to Bucharest “hasn’t been stolen yet,” says their oily connection, Arpad (Stipe Erceg, co-star of “The Edukators”).
The couple bickers and separates, with Ana stumbling across sad-sack supermarket detective Jan (Simon Schwarz), and Nicolae falling in with perky travel agent Dana (Viviane Bartsch). Also figuring in the mix is the ex for whom Jan still pines, Rita (Barbara Albert, who directed “Free Radicals,” a much less cluttered approach to this kind of pic). Finally, there’s Martha (Kathrin Resetarits), Jan’s drug-addled flatmate, who works in a testing laboratory as — wait for it — a human crash test dummy.
Underlining the title metaphor, helmer Joerg Kalt has constructed a determinedly weird and interlaced reality he describes as “extreme acceleration at slow speed.” Jan’s boss (Christoph Kuenzler) has a side business selling surveillance tapes of parking garage lovebirds, Dana’s co-worker is picturesquely named Lucy Sky Diamond Kudlacek (Ursula Strauss), and so on. Any one or two of these ideas would be substantial enough to support Kalt’s thesis in a conventional feature. Lumping them all together in one 93-minute burst dilutes the power of each, though pic gets away with rather too much by virtue of an absurdly comedic tone throughout.
Thesping runs the gamut, from Dumitrache’s initially cocky strut to Schwarz’ bewigged schlubbiness and Resetarits’ somnambulant shuffle. Tech package is skilled, with a pleasing tension between Eva Testor’s intentionally distressed 35mm lensing and the robust sound mix.