Popular Austrian comedian Roland Duringer’s one-man stage show hits the screen in the flashy “High Octane,” which is duly speed-driven and flammable in tone and content. His impressive transformation into four characters is the main lure, though somewhat sublimated to a highly worked, sometimes overly gimmicky narrative that finds grotesque humor in the excesses of the nation’s favorite liquid pasttime. Some viewers will find 91 minutes of escalating drunken loutishness more than they care to experience –the multihyphenate’s usual home-turf didn’t turn out for this more edgy vehicle in its theatrical run — but pic’s gonzo nature ensures a cult following.
Helming alongside first-timer Florian Kehrer, Duringer has made an item so almost exhaustingly cinematic that it’s hard to imagine the material’s prior incarnation as a theater piece. Disappearing into wholly convincing makeup, wigs and character tics, he plays four men who are wildly different save in one aspect: They’re all alcoholics, whether admitted or not. Their names spell out common reasons behind that addiction.
Frust (aka frustration) is a working-class party hound whose sad realization that “I can’t hold my liquor anymore” unfortunately hasn’t curbed his intake. His pugnacious attitude toward authority is fueled by the disapproval of prim Sybille (Eva Billisich), his supervisor at the electronics distribution company where he’s chief “technician” (read: warehouse schlepper and hauler).
Sybille’s own boss is pretentious older executive Mr. Stress, who copes with his eponymous malady by sneaking nips from his collection of expensive single-malt whiskies. His mood and sobriety both deteriorate as one VIP after another cancels attendance at tonight’s company Xmas and 10-year-anniversary party.
Hired to provide the entertainment is windbag veteran actor Angst (fear), whose career took a hit when embarrassing tabloid photos were published of his antics on one bender. He’s since climbed back up the ladder, partly by spinning recovery sob stories on TV chat shows — but in truth he’s simply gone from being a public drinker to a secret one. Fourth cocktail-inhaler is Zorn (aka anger), whose cumulative rage at life crystallizes in his determination to get consumer satisfaction from an infuriatingly complex new cellphone.
Collective alcohol intake and its distorting effect on four unreliable witnesses’ realities — each take turns narrating the pic from the next day’s hazy recall — lead the evening toward disaster. Just what disaster, however, is a question the movie plays with a tad too much, serving up alternative realities and ironic reversals until their self-satisfied cleverness begins to wear thin.
In the fashion of something like Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “High Octane” matches intoxicated on-screen behavior with skillfully over-the-top performances and dizzy, dislocating filmic style. Widescreen imagery often wobbles and lurches like a stumble-down drunk; editing is frequently frenetic; there are abrupt digressions, mostly amusing, into flashbacks, delusional fantasies and pop-culture satire.
Supporting players are on the right page, most offering deadpan contrast to Duringer’s four-cylinder fireworks. Trick-effect moments putting more than one of his characters onscreen are handled fairly seamlessly.