Psychotherapy, suicide and a fatal egg roll costume are all on the menu in “Martin and Orloff,” written and starring Upright Citizens Brigade escapees Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh. Extending skit comedy into full-length form is a tricky and, despite lots of snappy acerbic wordplay and inspired zany moments, pic works only intermittently. “Martin,” which opens Nov. 7, will initially attract fans of UCB’s 1998-2000 Comedy Central half-hours and their still-running NYC improv theater. But Brigade’s irreverent brand of humor is an acquired taste and pic may fare better in auxiliary markets where comedy can be sampled in shorter bites.
Corporate mascot designer Martin (Roberts) is released from the loony bin where he was taken after he tried to commit suicide out of guilt over the death of an actor. Demise was caused by the actor wearing a client-mandated egg roll costume that didn’t have eyeholes. Showing up for his first appointment with psychiatrist Orloff (Walsh), Martin’s hour session turns into an improbable two-day affair.
In a manner not dissimilar to the psychotherapy springboard of Jerry Lewis’ barely released 1983 “Cracking Up” (aka “Smorgasbord”), the psychiatrist visit functions here as the pretext for a gaggle of only vaguely interrelated comedy sketches: Martin is whisked down the rabbit-hole and taken on a wild ride which first lands him behind an umpire’s mask at a softball game, next in jail, and eventually back at work. There he must wrestle with the ultimate moral conundrum: Should he send three Campfire Girls dressed in sparerib costumes (without eyeholes) into a vat of dipping sauce — or lose his job?
Death and attempted suicide provide pic’s best gags: Martin, just home from the hospital, wearily contends with puddles of dried blood stuck to his bathroom floor. The dramatic crane-lifted removal of a waterlogged giant egg roll-with-legs while the ill-fated actor’s grieving parents look on is likewise a masterpiece of bathos.
Most of the gags, however, are in the nature of scattershot throwaways which get tedious when repeatedly tossed-in over a 90-minute stretch. Cameos by guest improv artists David Cross as a needy gay playwright, Janeane Garofalo as a bad actress-cum-hairdresser, and Andy Richter as a supercilious waiter, woven in between bits by veteran UCB troupers Katie Roberts and Matt Besser and SNL regulars Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, do not add much beyond wider audience recognition and tech support.
A far cry from the Bill Murray/Richard Dreyfuss “What About Bob?” opposition, Roberts’ and Walsh’s patient/shrink dynamic eschews traditional character-based comedy. Rather, their riffs are “Python”-esque, word- or situation-based, with characters’ personalities very broadly defined. Martin is repressed, fearful and uptight, while Orloff is as loose as a goose and just about as responsible.
Pic’s psychiatric setup lampoons the very idea of “development,” but structural trope leaves the film with nowhere to go. The ending teaches painfully repressed Martin to be less uptight, while off-the-wall Orloff learns a measure of answerability, but resolution is not especially well orchestrated or, for that matter, all that funny.
Helming by Lawrence Blume, seems better suited to the small screen than the wide, efficiently covering but rarely plussing the gags. Lensing by David Phillips adds texture to the discretely isolated, small-scale Gotham locales, and Roy Nathanson’s music zips along in pic’s manic wake.