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Party at Sam’s

Summing up one quintessential '90s post-film-school type of debut feature --- "Clerks" division, as opposed to the wannabe-Tarantino ilk --- "Party at Sam's" charts tangled intrigue from 9 p.m. to the wee hours at a twentysomething bash. Fairly funny dialogue and a good pace keep this pleasant comedy from getting too claustrophobic, though it doesn't really have the gloss, novel angle or extra sharp observations to weigh in as a commercial prospect. Creators (all USC film department grads) do demonstrate ability within limited means. Various central characters hear about another "legendary" party happening tonight at milquetoast Sam's Venice apartment. Whiny, uptight seismologist Scott is reluctantly dragged there, though worst fears are realized --- Elise, who just cruelly dumped him, is also in attendance. Aspiring actress Claire abandons a planned trip to Vegas when she's told a real live movie director will be at Sam's. Her office workmate Laura finds amusement staking bets with unassuming Bobby on other people's will-they-or-won't-they behavior. Other partygoers include one guy who thinks he's a vampire, a woman who can't stop spouting self-help lingo, a sleazy pickup artist and various nerds.

With:
Scott Rick Fitzgerald Bobby Michael Markowitz Laura Sinneman Brown Claire Meghan Beals Pete Alexander Liu Elise Zane Chase

Par for the course, dialogue is riddled with pop-culture references, funniest whenever one terminal grad-student type is deconstructing the metaphorical levels of “Waterworld” or the “Star Trek” canon. (Over closing credits, he neatly delivers an academic analysis of the film we’ve just seen.) There’s a brief belching contest and other silly party games, but in general humor is decently character-based.

Principal thesps are attractive and likable, if hardly stretched; subsidiary roles are more caricatured in the script. Director Douglas J. Eboch’s major handicap is pic’s being set (after first few minutes) entirely in the apartment’s sterile, white-walled interior rooms and equally drab balcony. Given that, lensing and editing are active enough to maintain interest — though the party does go on a bit too long. Good use is made of indie-rock songs — though oddly, once an actual band sets up to play, music gets a lot quieter.

Party at Sam's

Production: An Edward and Sharon Eboch/Harvey and Ruth Markowitz/Chris Eboch presentation in association with Doug Mike Doug Prods. Produced by Douglas J. Eboch, Douglas M. Chapin, Michael Markowitz. Directed by Douglas J. Eboch. Screenplay, Eboch, Douglas M. Chapin, Michael Markowitz.

Crew: Camera (color, 16mm), Jun Falkenstein; editor, Chapin; sound, Chapin, Markowitz. Reviewed on videocassette, San Francisco, Jan. 13, 1997. (In Cinequest, San Jose Film Festival.) Running time: 89 MIN.

With: Scott Rick Fitzgerald Bobby Michael Markowitz Laura Sinneman Brown Claire Meghan Beals Pete Alexander Liu Elise Zane Chase

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