A New Mexico outcast thrashes his way to the bigtime in an absurdist underdog yarn that feels positively Martian.

Closet air drummers rejoice: A New Mexico outcast thrashes his way to the bigtime in “Adventures of Power,” an absurdist underdog yarn that feels positively Martian in its brand of tom-tomfoolery. Like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch gone on too long, Ari Gold’s feature debut will tax unsuspecting viewers, while sending those on Gold’s special wavelength into seizures of delight. Rowdy response to “Power’s” midnight unspooling at Sundance establishes the pic’s cult-movie cred, although it’s hard to imagine mainstream crowds embracing the oddball concept or its half-silly, half-sincere execution.

Gold’s a gifted comedian, and it’s a natural progression that the guy behind “Culture” (a 60-second Dogma 95 sendup in which Gold, armed with an invisible arsenal, pantomimes an over-the-top gun battle) should graduate from “air guns” to air drums. However, while such whimsical ideas may be sufficient to fuel minute-long Sundance shorts, neither the concept nor the character (named Power) can sustain a full-length feature.

Power has never belonged. He possesses no practical skills, and his small-town brethren simply don’t understand his air-drumming fixation, which comes across as a glorified form of Tourette’s. The young man gets fired from the local copper mine after one particularly spastic set triggers an industrial accident, prompting a mini-existential crisis.

Power leaves the comfort of his home in Lode (basically a makeshift tent staked on aunt Jane Lynch’s lawn), first for Mexico and later Newark, where his peculiar talent/involuntary drumming tic gets proper respect. “There’s a place for people like me,” he muses en route to his first-ever air drum competition.

“Power” picks up steam once Gold’s socially awkward character hits the road, growing progressively weirder as he amasses freakshow friends along the way. In Newark, he is trained by an Isaac Hayes-like soul brother (Steven Williams) with hooks for hands and falls in love with the evangelical Christian girl upstairs (Shoshannah Stern), who also happens to be deaf.

Pic trades heavily on the conventions of classic drive-in fodder, plugging strange personal details into the obligatory slots (a copper miners’ strike led by Power’s union-boss dad serves as his motivation to win the air-drumming title). Although wall-to-wall ’80s rock anthems help to sell the movie’s tongue-in-cheek sensibility, the novelty has long since worn off by the flashy finale, in which Power faces off against a cocky pop-country star named Dallas Houston (Adrien Grenier).

Gold has the aw-shucks appeal of a long-lost Wilson brother, although casting himself here seems just as likely to backfire as to get him noticed. With its quirky costume and production design choices, self-indulgent pic gives Wes Anderson haters an easy new target.

Adventures of Power

Production

A Grack Films presentation, in association with the Group Entertainment, SpaceTime Films, of an Andrea Sperling production. (International sales: William Morris, Beverly Hills.) Produced by Andrea Sperling. Executive producers, Gill Holland, Christopher Woodrow. Co-producer, Elizabeth Bull. Directed, written by Ari Gold.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 16), Lisa Wiegand; editors, Dan Schalk, Geraud Brisson, David Blackburn; music/executive music producer, Ethan Gold; music supervisor, Robin Kaye; production designer, Walter Barnett; costume designer, Victoria Auth; sound (Dolby), Dennis Grzesik; assistant director, Arturo Guzman; casting, Annie McCarthy, Jay Scully, Freddy Luis. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 20, 2008. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Ari Gold, Michael McKean, Jane Lynch, Shoshannah Stern, Adrian Grenier, Steven Williams, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Travis Johns, Rafael Rojas, Jothy Singh, Chiu Chi Ling, Nick Kroll, Richard Fancy, Jared Nielsen.

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