Nonsense, hysterics and many cuppas spill in “Caffeine,” an ensembler that serves up a menu’s worth of forced and trite situations. Dean Craig’s script, set in a boho London den called the Black Cat Cafe but clearly not lensed there by helmer John Cosgrove (Los Angeles plays stand-in), contains all the earmarks of a play or TV set-piece, jumping between various couples during an exceptionally bad day for all of them. Tiny theatrical window will quickly shut, with solid tube and cable play, and modest vid servings, soon to follow.
Cafe manager Rachel (Marsha Thomason) is not only readying to interview for a top position at an upscale restaurant — and thus bidding farewell to the biz her late dad built — but she learns her b.f., chef Charlie (Callum Blue), just cheated on her. Waiter Dylan (Breckin Meyer) is nervously awaiting word from his agent on the possible publication of his first novel, while waitress Vanessa (Mena Suvari) has to take care of her mad grandmother Lucy (Roz Witt) for the day, while making sure she doesn’t disturb the customers.
Distraught Rachel gives Charlie the emotional and professional boot, leaving nervous lead waiter Tom (Mark Pellegrino) with the impossible task of running the kitchen.
Things aren’t any easier for the customers: Stoned out of his mind way too early in the day, Mike (Andrew Lee Potts) can’t get over losing g.f. Laura (Katherine Heigl), who, coincidentally, is sipping tea with a talkative, gun-loving blind date (Daz Crawford) at the other end of the room. Mike’s pal Danny (Mike Vogel) is no help, and gets into a row with another customer, Gloria (Sonya Walger), whom he’s sure is a porn star, but hasn’t counted on the manic jealousy of Gloria’s b.f. Mark (Orlando Seale).
Treated with a less sitcommy and more sophisticated touch by Cosgrove, and observed less formulaically by Craig, the setting and its denizens may have provided a refreshing vehicle for capturing contempo London and an amusing interplay of nationalities, tastes, ethnicities and desires. As it is, “Caffeine” offers little more than material for the reels of its consistently pro thesps (a mostly savvy mixture of Brits and Yanks), with good scenes played well by the likable Thomason, Heigl, Suvari, Meyer and Blue. Others, such as the gifted Seale, are saddled with ridiculous business that belongs on the latenight Beeb, if that.
Production, shot in a studio in Santa Susana, has some of the charm of a studio-made indie, but there’s no question a London location shoot would have lent the pic badly needed doses of local color and verisimilitude.