Warners is disposing of the inconvenient with its conspicuously underpublicized Nov. 30 regional release of “Mama’s Boy.” Haphazardly conceived and clumsily executed, this aggressively quirky yet gratingly unfunny comedy appears set on the fast track to vidstore bins.
Jon Heder, recycling his whiny-voiced “Napoleon Dynamite” shtick, stars as Jeffrey Mannus, a 29-year-old self-absorbed slacker who remains emotionally (and, evidently, financially) over-reliant on his widowed mother Jan (Diane Keaton), with whom he lives in a state of chronic co-dependency.
As he toils indifferently at a dead-end job in a secondhand bookstore, devotes long hours to vintage videogames and comicbook collecting and limits his social interactions to role-playing warrior matches with other misfits, Jeffrey appears to thoroughly enjoy his arrested adolescence.
The catch, of course, is that Jeffrey needs his mother to fill his every need, and bow to his passive-aggressive emotional bullying, for this sweet life to continue. (Heaven help her if she does something as thoughtless as forget to prepare his bagged lunch one morning.)
When Jan falls for Mert Rosenbloom (Jeff Daniels), a motivational speaker who actually believes in the positivity philosophy he successfully markets, Jeffrey fears he’ll be less of a 24/7 priority for his mom. Sabotage rears its ugly head.
From the start, director Tim Hamilton and scripter Hank Nelken place a near-impossible burden on Heder by giving him such a caustic, creepy and sometimes downright cruel character to play. But Heder merits blame on his own for a performance that only serves to underscore the character’s every obnoxious trait. Indeed, there are times in “Mama’s Boy” when the aud might suspect that, sooner or later, this bad comedy will devolve into a worse horror pic, because Jeffrey’s borderline sociopathic behavior suggests a major bloodletting may be in store.
In sharp contrast, Jeff Daniels gives a surprisingly ingratiating performance as a character who would be unmasked as a fraud in most other pics. For all his pretensions and faux sagacity, and despite one or two self-serving deceptions, Mert is at heart a well-meaning fellow who truly loves Jan, genuinely strives to win over Jeffrey and even refrains from telling his beloved about her selfish son’s nastier tricks. Trouble is, this only serves to make Jeffrey all the more unsympathetic.
Keaton struggles gamely but can do little with a character that doesn’t make much sense, dramatically or emotionally. Anna Faris is similarly hamstrung in the role of Nora, a would-be protest singer who’s inexplicably attracted to Jeffrey. Eli Wallach fares much better in the relatively small part of a cranky bookstore owner who is the first person in the pic to treat Jeffrey in the manner he so richly deserves.
Ending is intended as an homage to “Say Anything” but plays more like a desperate attempt to give Jeffrey a last-minute shot at redemption. By that point, alas, it’s much too late for the aud to care.
Tech values are unimpressive in a pic that is almost as unattractive as its lead character is unappealing.