The word “douchebag” is never uttered in Drake Doremus’ second feature (after “Spooner”), and for good reason: As played by Andrew Dickler, its central character is such an unmitigated jerk, he might as well have the film’s title tattooed on his forehead. Dickler’s acting debut is memorably repellent, even if the movie he’s in — a fitfully engaging story about two estranged brothers on a road trip — often feels forced and unconvincing, even on its modest, intimately scaled terms. It’s proof that a mumblecore budget doesn’t necessarily confer mumblecore authenticity, although commercially, the pic should land in the same low-rent neighborhood.
Los Angeles dude Sam Nussbaum (Dickler) has two things that, in a just world, would be mutually exclusive: a lovely fiancee, Steph (Marguerite Moreau), and a big, bushy, red-streaked beard that’s obnoxiously hipper-than-thou. When Steph goes out of her way to bring Sam’s younger brother, Tom (Ben York Jones), to L.A. so he can attend their upcoming wedding, it’s clear that there’s bad blood between the siblings, who haven’t seen each other in two years.
Scripted by Doremus, Dickler and producers Lindsay Stidham and Jonathan Schwartz, the pic displays a sharp ear for the tetchy verbal rhythms of brotherly rivalry. Sam has a hundred ways to belittle Tom, an aspiring artist; Tom, a more genial fellow with less off-putting facial hair, drops small hints about the past incident that led to their falling-out.
Still, there’s something rather obvious and over-emphatic about the brothers’ mutual resentment, especially compared with the more complex buddies-at-odds dynamics expressed in indies such as “Humpday” and “Old Joy.” The problem is only amplified when Sam impulsively suggests they drive to Palm Springs to track down Tom’s childhood sweetheart — a shift into road-movie territory that feels predictable yet strangely false, since the road is so conveniently paved with awkward encounters, heated confrontations and breakthrough moments.
From a dramatic p.o.v., the trip’s purpose is clear enough: Sam must act like a royal ass — hitting on other girls, pushing his brother into awkward situations — so he can realize, well, what a royal ass he is. Dickler is awfully good at being awful (and his brief speech about vegetarians is a keeper), yet even he can’t always pull off Sam’s extreme volatility, which often seems poorly motivated. Pic’s strongest scene — in which the brothers get drunk and goof around in their motel room, revealing a glimpse of the affection they once shared — is beautifully acted by Dickler and Jones, and suggests the subtler, more bittersweet movie “Douchebag” could have been.
Moreau offers strong support as the fiancee Sam doesn’t deserve, while Nicole Vicius delivers a gem-like performance as a girl with whom Tom spends a sweet afternoon at a skate rink. Outdoor lensing is effective, though the L.A. sequences are too underpopulated, in terms of characters and props, to suggest that Moreau’s Steph is really getting married in five days’ time.