Indie comedy "Poundcake" is a case of a bad movie made by a number of obviously talented people.

Indie comedy “Poundcake” is a case of a bad movie made by a number of obviously talented people. Attempting to split the difference between rude sketch comedy and heartfelt family drama, the film’s writers forget to write either jokes or convincing characters, although a few standout perfs and assured direction from first-timer Rafael Monserrate prevent pic from being a total waste. Box office prospects seem extremely minimal, but individual scenes will likely be seen on demo reels for some of the pic’s bigger talents.

Set in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1987 (period detail is limited to costumes befitting a frat-house ’80s party and a Tab joke cribbed from “Back to the Future”), pic centers on a trio of underachieving adult siblings rocked by news that their parents (Kathleen Quinlan and Jay O. Sanders) are seeking a divorce. This conflict and a host of lesser familial psychodramas play out as the family gathers for a last Thanksgiving together.

Sole unexpected complication (and most glaring narrative inconsistency) comes as brother and sister Robby and Brooke (Troy Hall, Deshja Driggs-Hall) meet to drink away their troubles and impulsively begin making out, only to be discovered by horrified younger brother Charlie (Kevin Logie). Here the film suggests a turn into far darker, more daring territory, with Charlie making frequent quips about V.C. Andrews and “two-headed babies,” though this development turns out to be a mere ploy to empty the script’s cache of incest jokes.

Hall and Logie (who also produced and wrote the script) both come from improv comedy backgrounds, and both fail to recognize the distinction between doing a bit and inhabiting a character. Logie, in particular, seems to be playing to the cheap seats, mugging and flailing about so aggressively that it feels like an assault.

Director Monserrate shows significant skill with the camera, and it would be interesting to see him tackle more substantial material. Quinlan and Sanders both radiate quiet empathy in roles that give them little else to do, while legit actress Driggs-Hall delivers the most rounded, believable perf, despite being saddled with the most ridiculous wardrobe. Rob Bogue gets most of the film’s few laughs as a crude, one-armed real estate agent.

Josh Silfen’s photography is stylish and capable; piano score is ham-fisted and mercifully scarce.

Poundcake

Production

A When They Roam production, in association with Crooked Halo Films. Produced by Troy Hall, Kevin Logie, Mridu Chandra, David Vaccari, Gene Raphael Miller. Executive producer, Paul Kelly. Co-producer, Ryan Seger. Directed by Rafael Monserrate. Screenplay, Troy Hall, Kevin Logie.

Crew

Camera (color), Josh Silfen; editor, Anthony Ripoli; music supervisor, Brian Sapp; score, Adam Schoenberg; production designer, Celine Diano; costume designer, Joan Fedyszyn; sound design, Michael Dillenberger. Reviewed at AFI Los Angeles Film Festival (competing), Nov. 5, 2008. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Kathleen Quinlan, Jay O. Sanders, Troy Hall, Kevin Logie, Deshja Driggs-Hall, Rob Bogue, Marissa Coughlan.

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