Canadian actor-writer Benjamin Ratner adds another hyphen with his feature helming debut, “Moving Malcolm,” a likable but spotty comedy of nebbish manners that lacks a strong enough personal signature to make much impact in the commercial arena. Woody Allen Lite tale, about a wannabe writer who tries to win back his careerist girlfriend by helping her dotty father move, augurs promisingly for future Ratner projects. This one copped a special jury mention for best first feature at the Montreal fest.
Ratner is Gene Maxwell, who’s dumped at the altar by flaky B-movie actress Liz Woodward (Elizabeth Berkley) and three years later has turned his hurt into a novel, “Fear Knot.” Put upon by his crazed family — a garrulous mother (Babz Chula), unsupportive father (Jay Brazeau) and autistic sister (Rebecca Harker) who thinks she’s a dog — Gene is surprised when Liz turns up at his door after reading his tome.
In fact, all she wants is for him to help move her aged English father, Malcolm (vet John Neville), as she has to scoot off to Prague to star in a trashy sci-fi pic. Though she’s dumped on him one time too often, Gene agrees, as Liz still manages to ring his chimes, even when calling long distance from the Czech Republic (where she’s canoolding with a hunky Slav). And strangely, Gene and the eccentric Malcolm build a mutually supportive friendship.
Pic undeniably has some nice moments amid the low-key character comedy, though there’s always the feeling that they’ve been done much sharper in other movies. Best material is between Ratner and Neville, with both actors giving themselves space to settle into the roles and build a believable relationship between two discarded, lonely souls.
The more manufactured comedy, such as Gene’s weird family and the patently careerist Liz, is less successful. But the buff Berkley looks and acts just fine as the latter, and Brazeau is dryly humorous as Gene’s grumpy father. Marnie Robinson is briefly noteworthy as a Fedex clerk in one of the film’s running jokes.
Shot in and around Ratner’s hometown of Vancouver, with some patently phony “Prague” interiors, the film is free of directorial quirks. Hi-def origins are hardly noticeable, apart from an overall dullness and coldness to the colors.