“Rhinoceros Hunting in Budapest” fully meets the expectations raised by a musicvideo and TV-commercial vet directing fashion models in a quirky-comic-mystic road movie. In other words: Abandon all hope. Pretentious, annoying, vacuous-beyond-belief posefest’s prospects will depend on how many friends owe first-time feature helmer Michael Haussman a ticket-stub worth of favors. Otherwise, box offices may have to reverse the usual monetary-exchange pattern to lure in customers.
Not surprisingly, feature is often pretty to look at, and starts with a striking shot: The Young Man (Glenn Fitzgerald) emerges 10-gallon-hatted and fully clothed from a canyon lake, wading toward his suitcase. His failed suicide-by-auto was triggered by a g.f.’s abrupt departure from their shared “hick” lifestyle. He decides to keep living long enough to track her down in Europe.
Once in Paree, Y.M. is stuck trying to deliver a traveling young boy to his no-show dad. But latter’s much younger, ever-so-quirksome gal pal (Karine Adrover as Teen) thinks he’s either killed himself or split — there’s much blood in their apartment bathroom, but no body.
The boy disappears from narrative sans explanation, enabling Young Man and Teen to comfort each other by making love in a rotating chair backed by huge “angel” wings and a video monitor. There’s also a trapeze in the kitchen — gee , these people are so artistic and idiosyncratic. Then again, maybe they’re just desperate to evoke “Wings of Desire’s” superior whimsy at any cost.
A charged relationship with Teen (one of those mercurial “I love you! I hate you! I love you!” women found only in a particular form of low-IQ highbrow cinema) doesn’t keep Y.M. long from hitting the road again, having found out his g.f. has moved to Belgrade. Various wacky adventures, further torment and final liberation ensue.
Funniest thing about the movie is, unfortunately, not onscreen: The press kit’s description of a work “like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ rewritten by Milan Kundera crossed with a Kafkaesque version of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road.’ ” Come again? Actuality is more like a pathetically ersatz mix of borrowings from Gus Van Sant, “Paris, Texas,” Fellini and musicvids.
Haussman’s notion of humor is to have support players rant obnoxiously while, say, electric-shaving their nose hairs. He’s especially fond of deploying homosexual figures for intended creepy-funny impact; worst of the lot (played by Alexei Sayle) is a Chihuahua-toting hypermincer who calls Y.M. “dear precious” and is fatally shot to ensure Y.M. and Teen’s “happy ending.” This virulent, retro stance appalls, even within pic’s already idiotic parameters.
Every interior is designed like an art-school installation, hiking pointless-fussiness quotient to levels seldom recorded. When in doubt, Haussman just cranks up the soundtrack: John Cale’s original score takes all hapless swings at earnest emotion far too seriously, but some well-chosen rock tunes at least provide welcome distraction.
Haussman does have visual talent, and seems most in his element during MTV-like segs when trivial action exists simply to support music. Then, there’s no real pretense of narrative, genuine emotion or control over the hopeless performances.
As an ostensibly “simple,” all-American cowpoke type, Fitzgerald looks, speaks and carries himself like the Calvin Klein model he is. Adrover’s role was inspired by her “abused angel” appearance in a Haussman-directed Replay Jeans commercial — ’nuff said. Saved for climactic “guest star” status as the slimy Belgrade club owner, Aussie rock icon Nick Cave adds to pic’s homosexual-panic fixation in an awful turn.
For what it’s worth, Nicola Pecorini’s photography is always attractive. Music aside, sound recording seemed rather shrill at Sundance preem. Title refers to hero’s alleged lifelong dream of shooting down a rhino in Africa. Cruel sportsmanship, perhaps, but then “Rhinoceros Hunting” knows plenty about inflicting pain.