The multi-character, many-subplotted road movie is a staple of American film humor — from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” to the “Cannonball Run” pictures and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Helmer-co-writer Bjorne Larson, with fellow scripters Johan Sandstrom and Lisa Taube, adds pop psychology, a wannabe screenwriter and suicide in place of other devices of the genre to come up with “Kill Your Darlings.” Pic may be buoyed among mainstream auds by its familiar cast, if not by its familiar comedy.
Wedding the American cultural phenomena of reality TV with the alleged suicide obsession of director Larson’s native Sweden, “Kill Your Darlings” opens with narration by Erik (Andreas Wilson), a failed screenwriter who failed for good reason: Not only did he bring a Hollywood producer a script about Swedish suicide, he took a cell phone call while the producer was speaking.
But Erik’s real problems start when he meets Lola (Lolita Davidovich), an all-too-manic free-spirit. In an effort to get Erik in touch with the truth and his writing on the right path, Lola takes him on a tortuous trip into the California desert that involves practical jokes, vandalism and seat-of-the-pants philosophy.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the Dr. Phil-inspired Dr. Bangley (John Larroquette), author of “Stay Alive,” is prepping for a Las Vegas book signing by having his more suicidal clients transported to the event. They include Katherine (Julie Benz), who jumped in a pool with a plugged-in television, and Geert (Alexander Skarsgard), a transvestite who prefers self-immolation.
Also in the menagerie: Dr. Bangley’s aide-de-camp, Stevens (Greg Germann); Omar (Fares Fares), the patients’ vaguely sinister driver; and the doctor’s 14-year-old daughter, Sunshine (Skye McCole Bartusiak).
The title — a dictum about self-editing that has been attributed variously to Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain — should have been taken to heart by Larson and co-writers Sandstrom and Taube. There’s simply too much here, and the mix of high anxiety/hilarity doesn’t ever find a groove.
Certainly, the realms of TV psychology and reality programming deserve all the derision a filmmaker can muster. But “Kill Your Darlings” is too dulled by calculated wackiness to be a properly pointed satire.