Tyro helmer Todd Rohal's "The Guatemalan Handshake" intends to be an absurd comedy about a small town overflowing with eccentrics. After an exciting visual opener, pic reaches nearly unprecedented levels of annoyance and overplayed nonsense. Commercially toast, this misfire may find allies at niche fests.

A frustrating example of convention-defying filmmaking that tries too hard to be different, tyro helmer Todd Rohal’s “The Guatemalan Handshake” intends to be an absurd comedy about a small town overflowing with eccentrics. After an exciting visual opener that suggests what Jacques Tati may have done with rural America, pic reaches nearly unprecedented levels of annoyance and overplayed nonsense. Commercially toast, this misfire may find allies at niche fests.

Donald (Will Oldham) goes missing, but not before he witnesses a bizarre power outage stemming from the Three Mile Island nuke plant. While his young friend Turkeylegs (Katy Haywood) narrates, a tiny electric car goes through a series of owners. Sadie (Sheila Scullin) defies her Guatemalan dad and runs in a demolition derby, and an old lady searches for her pooch. This only begins to account for pic’s cacophony of mannered nuttiness that overwhelms what could have been an imaginatively involving post-mod comedy.

The Guatemalan Handshake

Production

A Universal Artificial Limb Co. presentation in association with Brainbox Prods. Produced by Marissa Ronca, Jason Orfanon, Todd Rohal. Executive producer, Nick Panagopulos. Directed, written by Todd Rohal.

Crew

Camera (Alpha Cine color and B&W, Technicolor prints, widescreen), Richie Sherman; editor, Alan Canant; music, W. Clay, David Wingo, Gretta Cohn; production designers, Jim McNamee, Sage Rockermann. Reviewed at Slamdance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 21, 2006. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Will Oldham, Sheila Scullin, Ken Byrnes, Rich Schreiber, Ivan Dimitrov, Katy Haywood.

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