The hapless slacker persona and shaggy-dog humor that amusingly floated 2014’s Sundance-preemed short “Funnel” feels stretched mighty thin in director-writer-producer-star Andre Hyland’s debut feature, “The 4th.” This non-story chronicling the various obstacles our organizationally challenged protag faces on the Fourth of July in Los Angeles has an initially ingratiating offhand air, hip packaging elements, and some spot-on performances (albeit as invariably annoying characters). But even for a movie whose tail-chasing insubstantiality is pretty much “the joke,” there’s just not a lot of there there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. While Hyland shows a promising directorial facility, this flimsy indie bro-com is likely to prove more successful as a calling card than as a commercial entity.
We meet Jamie (Hyland) as he’s walking home — because he’s got a sweet parking spot and is almost out of gas anyway — from the party store with some charcoal for the night’s planned patio cookout. When he realizes he forgot the lighter fluid, he backtracks, albeit with his absent housemate’s treasured bicycle, which naturally winds up trashed by a random road-rage driver (Jeff Carpenter). But then, nearly all Jamie’s interactions are exasperating ones, whether it’s with a persnickety Uber driver (Brent Weinbach), mean clerks (John Ennis, Matt Peters), a princessy public-restroom hogger (Eliza Coupe, nailing an especially up-to-the-moment personality type with relish), or the self-explanatory “Creepy Party Crasher” (Frank Collison).
Even his ostensible friends create problems, whether by being demanding, like Mark (Paul Erling Oyen) or irresponsible, like Scotty (Johnny Pemberton). Surprisingly, Jamie has a girlfriend (Anna Lee Lawson); less surprisingly, the out-of-town flatmate’s g.f. (Yasmine Kittles) nags him ceaselessly over chores he never gets around to doing.
This pileup of frustrations is variably funny, often just mildly so, but rooting value is slight since floppy-haired Jamie is such a passive figure, one defined by little more than his constant cell-phone rambling and general brospeak. While Hyland is an amiable enough screen presence, one suspects his protagonist and movie will be more trying than relatably hilarious to anyone who doesn’t likewise use the word “dude” every few seconds. (At least Bill & Ted had actual adventures — Jamie just wanders around.) The sensibility at work has a certain appeal, but not nearly enough to sustain 81 minutes.
That said, “The 4th” feels fresh in less critical ways, from the use of unfamiliar L.A. neighborhoods in Charles Gibson and Shane Bruce Johnston’s widescreen lensing to Hyland’s loose, playful editing. The latter lends considerable snap to the thin material, as does a soundtrack whose waggishly selected retro tunes include a couple of richly kitschy slices of late ’70s Turkish pop-rock.