This low-rent road movie similarly rides on principles of audience identification, largely minus competent helming, thesping or scripting.

In helmer Bruce Van Dusen’s “Backseat,” two 30-something slackers, one repressed and the other impulsive, drive from Gotham to Montreal to catch a glimpse of Donald Sutherland. Culturally falling somewhere between “Sideways” and “Dumb and Dumber,” this low-rent road movie similarly rides on principles of audience identification, largely minus competent helming, thesping or scripting. When not leadenly laying out its characters’ backstories, pic coasts tolerably on absurdist happenstance. But having exhausted three years between its 2005 Austin fest audience award win and its Quad Cinema March 28 bow in New York, “Backseat” may have hit the wall.

Irrepressible Colton (scripter Josh Alexander), a freewheeling actor who finds himself perpetually between auditions, and straight-arrow Ben (Rob Bogue), stuck in a seemingly permanent job search, decide to take a break from doing nothing and head to Canada, land of Colton’s idol, Donald Sutherland (a childhood substitute for the father who walked out on him). The two pals have thuddingly inane discussions of “The Myth of Sisyphus” that bluntly define their personalities (One Reads, The Other Doesn’t, etc.) in simplistic oppositional terms.

En route, the duo encounters all manner of strange and wondrous misfits. While Colton scopes out the local jailbait, Ben flashes back to seriocomic, poorly acted confrontations with his g.f. (Aubrey Dollar) over her rape fantasies and desire to see other guys.

Oddly, scenes that would seem to invite comic innovation, like Colton’s casting audition, consistently misfire, while the most tired cliches somehow achieve a measure of legitimacy. Thus, Colton’s pickup of a nubile convenience-store cashier (Sarah Lord) turns positively electric as they sexually spark over her under-the-counter Glock pistol. Alexander’s thesping skills are best displayed whenever his character approaches some new form of insanity.

Joined by Ben’s weirdo paranoid cousin (Mark Rosenthal) and his solely text-message-communicating cohort (Will Janowitz), the four hire a friendly stripper (Helen Coxe). Without explanation, the strip sequence segues into an impromptu party, thankfully free of vertiginous handheld camera acrobatics or interminable gross-out gags.

Story throws in some half-hearted adventures involving drug smuggling and armed standoffs with local entrepreneurs, but they function more as occasions for Ben to roll his eyes over his buddy’s out-of-control antics than as committed forays into any known action genre.

Van Dusen exercises little visual imagination or forward momentum, allowing pic to meander wherever the equally unfocused script may lead. Tech credits are undistinguished.

Backseat

Production

A Truly Indie release of a Truly Indie, Group Effort Films presentation of a Group Effort Films production. Produced by Terry Leonard, Josh Alexander. Executive producers, John Textor, Casey Cummings, Jeff Mooallem, Henry Hardaway. Directed by Bruce Van Dusen. Screenplay, Josh Alexander.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 16-to-HD), Ari J. Issler; editors, Gavin Cutler, Andy Kier; music, BC Smith; Music supervisors, Jonathan Fine, Glen Caplin; production designer/costume designer, Amanda Ford; sound, Joshua Anderson, Matthew Polis; casting, Eva Battaglia. Reviewed on DVD, New York, March 22, 2008. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Josh Alexander, Rob Bogue, Aubrey Dollar, Will Janowitz, Mark Rosenthal, Helen Coxe, Sarah Lord, Danny Mastrogiorgio.
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