A lazy exercise in cute minimalist humor, low-budget but visually glossy Mexican film "Lake Tahoe" is so dry and slight that it threatens to drift right off the screen.

A lazy exercise in cute minimalist humor, low-budget but visually glossy Mexican film “Lake Tahoe” is so dry and slight that it threatens to drift right off the screen. Sophomore helmer Fernando Eimbcke follows up his celebrated 2004 feature bow, “Duck Season,” with a strong dose of the affected awkwardness of Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismaki and Tsai Ming-liang. Pic aims for observational wit, but only delivers strained, obviously telegraphed laughs. Quirky effort has strong supporters, but its self-conscious style will confine it to the fest circuit.

Rushing to an undisclosed destination in his Yucatan one-horse town, slender youth Juan (Diego Catano) crashes the family car. Unable to restart the motor, Juan hoofs it to find a replacement distributor harness. In between more pauses than a Harold Pinter play, the yarn gently reveals that Juan’s father recently died and his grieving mother has ceased to function as a parent.

Encounters with aging mechanic Don Heber (Hector Herrara) and his dog supply mild laughs, as do young mother Lucia (Daniela Valentine) and martial-arts fanatic David (Juan Carlos Lara), who run an auto parts store. But the overall narrative is as immobile as Juan’s stalled car.

Passive thesps are barely given room to act and display no real gift for comedy. Lenser Alexis Zabe does an exquisite job of re-creating what look like storyboarded shots Eimbcke conceived with an exacting draftsman’s eye. Following Hal Hartley’s example of title cards in “The Unbelievable Truth” (1989), helmer attempts to cover budget limitations by having dramatic (and difficult-to-film) incidents — car crash, a vicious dog, etc. — occur off camera. By the film’s end, use of black screen, albeit with some soundtrack activity, feels like the main reason pic actually extends to an 80-minute running time.

All other tech credits are pro.

Title is derived from an irrelevant tourist sticker from the famed U.S. resort town on the family car that acts as a kind of Wellesian “Rosebud” motif. Pic was nurtured at the Sundance Institute, but allegedly was not completed in time for inclusion at that fest.

Lake Tahoe

Mexico - U.S. - Japan

Production

A Cinepantera production, in association with Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia (Mexico)/Sundance Institute (U.S.)/NHK (Japan). (International sales: Funny Balloons, Paris.) Produced by Christian Valdelievre. Executive producer, Jaime Bernardo Ramos. Directed by Fernando Eimbcke. Screenplay, Eimbcke, Paula Markovitch.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Alexis Zabe; editor, Mariana Rodriguez; art director, Diana Quiroz; sound, Lena Esquenazi. (Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival --competing), Feb. 9, 2008. Running time: 81 MIN.

With

Diego Catano, Hector Herrera, Daniela Valentine, Juan Carlos Lara, Yemil Sefami. (Spanish, English dialogue)

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