'Frankie Go Boom'

There's no denying that writer-director Jordan Roberts earns a good number of laughs, and even some extended guffaws, with his crass romance about sex, lies and digital video.

It’s easy, and not entirely inaccurate, to describe “Frankie Go Boom” as yet another raucous comedy influenced by the better, bolder efforts of Judd Apatow and the Farrelly brothers. But there’s no denying that writer-director Jordan Roberts earns a good number of laughs, and even some extended guffaws, with his crass romance about sex, lies and digital video. Certain other exploitable elements — including an elegantly attired Ron Perlman as a diffident transsexual, and a jock-strapped Chris Noth on a treadmill — doubtless will make the pic even more appealing in a variety of distribution platforms.

The plot pivots on a long-simmering sibling rivalry that boils over when would-be novelist Frank (Charlie Hunnam) reluctantly leaves his Death Valley retreat for a reunion with his estranged brother, Bruce (Chris O’Dowd), an aspiring filmmaker newly graduated from a Los Angeles rehab program.

Throughout their childhood, Bruce used Frank as his unwitting subject in short videos that made Frank the fall guy in various sight gags hinted at by the pic’s title. Later, Bruce upped the humiliation quotient with a video of Frank’s reaction, on his wedding day, to news of his beloved’s infidelity. That video, much to Frank’s enduring embarrassment, earned a zillion or so hits on YouTube.

When Frank meets cute with Lassie (Lizzy Caplan), she’s emotionally vulnerable and very seriously drunk after having learned of her own sweetheart’s unfaithfulness. They wind up in Frank’s old place behind his parents’ house, where, with some extremely eager assistance from Lassie, he ultimately overcomes temporary impotence and rises to the occasion. Bruce, of course, is outside, videoing everything.

Complications pile atop complications in a farcical, freewheeling fashion that occasionally suggests Roberts and his players simply made things up as they went along. But there’s a clever design beneath the seemingly random chaos, as the pic gets an inordinate amount of comic mileage from the running joke of Bruce’s borderline-sociopathic self-absorption.

At first, Bruce tells Frank not to worry: His video focuses on his brother’s inability to have sex; once the coupling began in earnest, he turned off the camera. But Frank is unimpressed by this fine distinction, particularly when the video goes viral. Bruce ultimately agrees to find some way of getting the vid offline, but only after he discovers Lassie is the daughter of Jack (Noth), a burnt-out TV star who tends to shoot at objects and individuals that anger him.

Noth appears to be having the time of his life cast against type as a self-indulgent wild-man whose swaggering excess may remind many of certain real-life tarnished stars. In contrast, Perlman (Hunnam’s co-star on “Sons of Anarchy”) plays it subtler and sweeter as Phyliss, a computer hacker who’s anxious about re-entering the dating pool after her sex change. Indeed, Perlman is all the more hilarious for playing the role, for want of a better term, straight.

Hunnam, too, effectively avoids overstatement, even while taking pratfalls and registering panic, and conveys an engaging sincerity that enhances his chemistry with the comely and adroitly comedic Caplan. As Bruce, O’Dowd repeatedly amuses while plumbing the lowest depths of his character’s self-justifying egomania. Appropriately enough, Nora Dunn plays Bruce’s mom as his No. 1 enabler.

Tech values are impressively polished.

Frankie Go Boom

Production

A Defender Films production in association with K&L Prods. and the Ministry Content. Produced by Marcel Langereger, Pavlina Hatoupis, Katayoun A. Marciano. Executive producers, Elliott Lewitt, Julie Kirham. Directed, written by Jordan Roberts.

Crew

Camera (color), Mattias Troelstrup; editor, Michael Hofacre; music, Matteo Messina; music supervisor, Peter Afterman; production designer, Michael Fitzgerald; art director, Rodrigo Cabral; set decorator, Siobhan O'Brien; costume designer, Ann Foley; sound, Matthew Sanchez; assistant director, Van Hayden; casting, Wendy O'Brien. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 11, 2012. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Frank - Charlie Hunnam
Bruce - Chris O'Dowd
Lassie - Lizzy Caplan
Karen Barlett - Nora Dunn
Chris - Sam Anderson
Claudia - Whitney Cummings
Donna - Kate Luyben
Phyliss - Ron Perlman
Jack - Chris Noth

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