An insecure aspiring screenwriter gets the girl in "The Paranoids."

An insecure aspiring screenwriter gets the girl in “The Paranoids,” tyro Argentine co-writer/director Gabriel Medina’s uneven bid for a spot in the country’s small but growing commercial sector. Co-production with Spain is infected by the glib cuteness and fantasy characteristic of Spanish comedy. Although star Daniel Hendler’s dry and underplayed perf as paranoid numero uno keeps pic afloat and helps its international profile, a notably slack pace may depress B.O. beyond solid local prospects.

Luciano (Hendler) has a children’s party biz with partner Sherman (Martin Feldman), in which both dress up in goofy costumes to amuse the kiddies. Luciano, though, has a tendency to doze off during the events — just the first of several signs that he’s quite possibly a lifelong failure. He’s also a hypochondriac, currently obsessed that he contracted HIV with a recent sex partner.

During a freak moment, he accidentally slams a door on Sherman’s neck with enough force to send his pal into the hospital. Meanwhile, old acting friend Manuel (busy thesp Walter Jakob) is back in Buenos Aires from Madrid, where he has a hit TV show titled “The Paranoids,” and keeps reminding frustrated Luciano of all the success he doesn’t have.

Type A meets Type B, and the formula plays out rather dryly as Medina stages it, with far too much blank space demanding a trim of at least 10 minutes. There’s a half-baked attempt at the deadpan humor of a Martin Rejtman in several scenes and sequences, particularly an amusing one in which Luciano momentarily leaves a small dinner party to return some bad wine to a nasty Chinese grocer.

Luciano is struggling to finish a script, even as Manuel expects him to deliver a copy to his producer. At every step, “The Paranoids” shows that Luciano has every reason to be suspicious — Manuel may offer him work, but it’s always from the standpoint of the stronger Alpha male throwing a bone to his loser pal.

Neither this narrative string nor one involving Sofia and Luciano has any strong build or payoff, comic or otherwise, and the finale comes off as abrupt and contrived. Entire project relies on star Hendler to carry the day, which isn’t such a bad thing, as he’s just the actor for low-key exchanges and long, pregnant pauses. As his counterpart, Jakob walks the walk and talks the talk of a man wielding creative power.

One of pic’s surest attributes is a sustained mood of slight dread and unease, with most scenes occurring after sunset. Key contributors to overall effect, including lenser Lucio Bonelli, editor Nicolas Goldbart, composer Guillermo Guareschi and production designer Sebastian Roses, rep quality production values typical of mainstream Argentine filmmaking.

The Paranoids

Argentina-Spain

Production

A Primer Plano release (in Argentina) of an Aeroplano presentation, in co-production with Mondo Cine, in association with Toct Films, Topo Films. Produced by Sebastian Aloi, Nicolas Tacconi. Executive producer, Aloi. Directed by Gabriel Medina. Screenplay, Nicolas Gueilburt.

Crew

Camera (color), Lucio Bonelli; editor, Nicolas Goldbart; music, Guillermo Guareschi; production designer, Sebastian Roses; costume designer, Paula Santos; sound (Dolby Digital), Facundo "Paco" Giron; sound designer, Fernando Soldevila; supervising sound editor, Ricardo Sotosca; re-recording mixer, Roberto Migone; associate producers, Andy Kleinman, Mike Bassa, Federico Weil, Nicolas Casares; assistant director, Adriana Vior. Reviewed at Buenos Aires Film Festival (competing), April 12, 2008. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Daniel Hendler, Jazmin Stuart, Walter Jakob, Martin Feldman, Miguel Dedovich.

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