Part tongue-in-cheek detective story, part pungent send-up of the media, “A.K.A. Birdseye” is perhaps best viewed as a sophisticated European take on dopey American television, with an affectionate look at Western Americana and films thrown in to soften the punch. This tale about a Colorado sheriff on the trail of an elusive Swiss criminal may prove a tall order for many distribs, who should, however, aim at teen markets able to appreciate clever parody. The American setting and dialogue (except for a smattering of Swiss chalets and rare spots of German) should help find an international audience.
On their first feature film, co-directors Stephen Beckner (American) and Michael Huber (Swiss) concoct an extravagantly complicated story with a logical, if goofy, solution. Weird performance artist Urs Vogelaug — known as Birdseye (a ghostly presence in the film, played by barely glimpsed Swiss thesp Stefan Kurt) — is kidnapped by two fast and loose Coloradans, Heidi Logan (Amy Hathaway), a luscious blonde centerfold in Raunchy magazine, and her unscrupulous b.f. Trent (Johnny Whitworth).
Sheriff Nolan Sharpless (Fred Ward) tells an unseen interviewer about the crime and its mysterious non-outcome. He followed Birdseye and his kidnappers around the state, always one step behind, until they headed for the Denver airport. There, police apprehended Heidi and Trent (they tell their own stories from prison).
Birdseye, locked in a suitcase, disappeared. Auds are asked to formulate their own theories about the Swiss Houdini. Meanwhile, a masked man looking much like Birdseye began holding up stores at gunpoint all over the state.
He becomes a romantic figure idolized by cooing, middle-aged ladies; he is the topic of excited TV talkshows. On one talkshow, Sharpless loses his temper and has to turn in his badge, but he goes on hunting Birdseye with the help of his gawky teenage son Ben (Fred Koehler).
Filmmakers could have spared themselves some of the less amusing subplots, like Heidi’s rock singer-suitor (Jaimz Woolvett) or Sharpless’ fan club nemesis. There are also quick trips to Switzerland to hear what Birdseye’s grandmother thinks and to laugh at some of his absurd performance works.
The actor of note is versatile Ward, who inflects the sheriff with an obsessive personality that loses him his wife and almost gets his son killed, yet still wins audience sympathy for his homespun honesty. As his geeky son in Bill Gates’ glasses, Koehler patiently acknowledges the role’s cliches and goes them one better with his touching loyalty to his Dad.
Mimicking styles from video surveillance to talkshows, Beckner and Huber have a ball along with cinematographer Thomas Wuthrich exploiting the possibilities of digital video. The resulting visuals are as strange and unpredictable as the hero’s behavior, with much credit due to the Das Werk lab in Zurich.