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The Suburbanators

From out of the wilds of western Calgary come "The Suburbanators," a loose cluster of early-20s losers who have trouble crossing town, let alone getting their lives under way. Pic's droll tone is exactly right for these anxious procrastinators, whose feeble stabs at self-determination become increasingly hilarious. Smart marketing and placement could connect this to an appreciative young audience.

From out of the wilds of western Calgary come “The Suburbanators,” a loose cluster of early-20s losers who have trouble crossing town, let alone getting their lives under way. Pic’s droll tone is exactly right for these anxious procrastinators, whose feeble stabs at self-determination become increasingly hilarious. Smart marketing and placement could connect this to an appreciative young audience.

Story by debuting helmer Gary Burns follows three sets of young men as they take a coincidental trip through strip-malls and cookie-cutter wastelands to end up in yet another dismal neighborhood. Brooding Bob and self-doubting Al (Stephen Spender and Joel McNichol) are at least in a car, and so have time for haircuts that neither of them needs. Gangly Eric and cynical, chin-whiskered Carl (Jacob Banigan and Stewart Burdett) are hoofing it to the same place, to buy some dope from a none-too-discreet dealer. Meanwhile, the house trio (Jihad Traya, Ahmad Taha, Rogy Masri) at a local Middle Eastern restaurant get stuck when their instruments are locked in an absent g.f.’s downtown apartment and then bus to the ‘burbs to seek help from a relative.

Along the way, Carl pokes a passing pedestrian with his cigarette and insults a prize-winning novelist (calling him “a modest-aggressive”); Eric escapes a massive drug bust through an open bathroom window and has a rock fight with the musicians (whose Arabic language is never translated); Carl and Bob steal an unguarded stash; someone gets hit by a car; and not one of these guys displays the slightest knowledge of how to talk to a woman.

What really makes “The Suburbanators” click is that Burns planes off all these potentially heart-pounding incidents into a narrative as flat as the talk radio that drones incessantly in the background. This is an environment so polluted with anonymous car lots and videogame parlors that the characters — none of whom is stupid — barely recognize drama when it happens. Smart auds will, though, thanks to sharp editing and tight control of actors.

Bleached colors, oblique camera angles and bargain-basement lighting are perfect for this numbingly absurd milieu. Drug talk and extra-subtle humor may keep this out of mall-plexes, but that’s just where it belongs: Pic needs a 35mm blowuppronto, since there’s a continent full of Beavises and Butt-heads who’ve never seen themselves so accurately captured.

The Suburbanators

(CANADIAN)

Production: A Burns Film/Red Devil Films (Calgary) production. Produced by Gary Burns, John Hazlett. Directed, written by Gary Burns.

Crew: Camera (color, 16mm), Patrick Mclaughlin; editor, Mark Lemmon; art direction, Kevin Jones; costume design, Cherise Jacque; sound, Frank Laratta; assistant director, Grant Sauve. Reviewed on videocassette , Vancouver, Sept. 6, 1995. (In Toronto, Vancouver film festivals.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With: With: Joel McNichol, Stephen Spender, Stewart Burdett, Jacob Banigan, Jihad Traya, Ahmad Taha, Rogy Masri, Peter Strand Rumple, Carrie Shiftler, Kurt McKinstry, Lyle St. Goddard, Leslie Wilson, Kevin Jones.

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