The Buddy Factor” will become this year’s must-see primer for aspiring producers and studio execs. Borrowing a page from “The Player” with a tip of the hat to “Reservoir Dogs,” George Huang’s sharp first feature reps the latest diving expedition to attempt to measure the true depths of venality and cynicism in contempo Hollywood. Narrow focus on the relationship between a selfish, macho exec and his green assistant will limit audience interest to in-the-know urbanites, but an aces performance by Kevin Spacey and smart take on industry ways should generate sufficient critical support to give this dark comedy a shot at cult status.
A revenge fantasy in which a flunky gets some of his own back when he holds his insufferable boss hostage and tortures him over all “the indignities and hardships” he’s suffered, pic charts a Hollywood arrival’s trip from idealism to murderous me-firstism.
Hip opening scene has 25-year-old film school grad Guy (Frank Whaley) reeling in disgust when his young dinner mates at a trendy eatery react with utter blankness when he mentions Shelley Winters and her credits.
Guy, it would seem, got lucky in town right away, landing a fast-track job as personal assistant to high-powered studio production exec Buddy Ackerman (Spacey), a man known for reveling in power, babes and abuse of his employees.
Not only does Buddy humiliate the naive Guy in front of other workers, and make him remove from local newsstands every copy of a Time issue that includes a derogatory mention of him, he prevents the kid from ever taking lunch, which means Guy must meet foxy young producer Dawn (Michelle Forbes) one evening.
That such a tough cookie as Dawn would make a play for gullible Guy is the script’s least believable ploy, but she does it mostly to improve her position with Buddy so he’ll help her new project.
Buddy initially responds to the script with an utter lack of enthusiasm, but Guy is eventually able to turn him around, thereby linking his fate in town directly to that of the project and his detested boss.
In the meantime, Guy must endure an endless cascade of verbal and sometimes physical abuse, and the many scenes of Buddy grinding his assistant into the carpet have an insidious, mordant humor that is enhanced by Spacey’s incisive, fundamentally serious perf.
Intercut with the office action are “current” scenes in which an enraged Guy, having tied up Buddy in the latter’s house, forces him to confront his own childish sadism, all the while torturing him and threatening worse. Escalating face-off is climaxed by an unexpected arrival, and surprise ending truly does “The Player” one better in its evaluation of how self-centered and insular Hollywood is.
Lensing, production design, editing and music are excellent.
Most important, the three main roles are well cast and performed. Spacey dominates, but Whaley makes a convincing transition from goody-goody to icy insider, and Forbes manages well.
Short of serving up a B.O. bonanza with your first feature, the best way to get Hollywood to know your name is to make a film industryites will talk about, and Huang has craftily done that.