Pic bills itself as a psychological thriller, but can't decide whether to go for gory black comedy, character drama or supernatural suspense.

More interesting in concept than execution, “Serving Up Richard” bills itself as a psychological thriller, but can’t decide whether to go for gory black comedy, character drama or supernatural suspense. The result is an uninspired muddle further dulled by action so spatially constricted, it might’ve worked better onstage. The tale of a trapped protag’s attempts to escape becoming dinner for a suburban cannibal couple launches theatrically in Gotham Sept. 7 (Los Angeles following on Sept. 21). Best commercial hopes lie in home formats, though horror fans drawn by the film’s theme will be exasperated by its slow, talky progress.

Having fled with his wife to Los Angeles from a murkily explained business collapse, Richard (Ross McCall) needs to start life afresh, and the first order of business is getting a car. When he shows up to check out an advertised vintage auto, however, he’s hit by a blow dart, waking up hours later in a “guest room” outfitted with prison bars. He’s the latest such guest of blustery Great White Hunter type Everett (Jude Ciccolella) and chalk-faced, nervous Glory (Susan Priver), who are literal man-eaters.

Despite all signs that Glory is a soft touch and Richard is hellbent on survival, Everett improbably leaves them alone while he goes off on a six-week trip abroad. This allows the intended meal to romance his hostess toward freedom. But Glory proves skittish, agoraphobic and superstitious, convinced her husband has cast a controlling spell over her, and that Richard can free them both only by becoming the stronger shaman. Various hocus-pocus ceremonies and tests ensue before the patriarch returns for a bloody struggle to the death.

Bob Balaban’s 1989 cult fave “Parents” did the suburban-cannibalism thing to a possibly unmatchable T, but in any case, “Serving Up Richard” barely exploits its grotesque premise. Instead, the focus is entirely on the cat-and-mouse play among the three leading figures, who aren’t really all that compelling. McCall’s protag is a standard-issue wiseguy (with voiceover narration to match), while Ciccolella’s villain too often seems an actorly show-off, his gratuitous imitations of celebrity pushing the pic toward intentional camp. Priver (also exec producer) is more intriguing as a potentially nuts and/or homicidal Blanche DuBois type, though her character’s final turnabout comes as no surprise.

The feature reps the directing debut of 1970s thesp-turned-scenarist Olek, but there’s little indication of why he waited so long, let alone for this particular project. Without any particular attention to atmosphere or cinematic style, the dialogue-heavy pic sticks to one living-room/jail-cell locale, making it feel like a play ineffectually opened up for the camera. Design/tech contributions are competent.

Serving Up Richard

Production

A Dance On Prods. presentation. Produced by Diane Levine. Executive producer, Susan Priver. Directed by Henry Olek. Screenplay, Olek, Jay Longshore, based on a story by Longshore.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Bruce Alan Greene; editor, Bob Joyce; music, Stephen Graziano; production designer, Freddy Naff; set decorator, Leah Ward; costume designer, Drew Bird; sound, Kennard Morris; sound designer, Bob Joyce; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Walter New; assistant director, Sasha Malarevsky; casting, Russell Boast. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, July 26, 2012. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Ross McCall, Susan Priver, Jude Ciccolella, Darby Stanchfield, Brian Burke, Adam Kulbersh.

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