One needn’t be an American expatriate living in Prague to get the culture-clash jokes in the loosey-goosey yet ingratiating mockumentary “Rex-patriates.” Fests seeking a sociopolitical laffer will migrate to the pic, which may be too lightweight and insular for theatrical but will find a good home in ancillary.
Following the 1989 Velvet Revolution, Prague was — and still is — a magnet for young and/or disaffected Americans looking for some combination of cultural inspiration and business opportunity. Many left and many stayed, but “rex-patriates,” returning ex-patriates, can’t get the city out of their systems and are forced to return once again, usually for good. The story here takes that concept and runs with it, presenting four very different and completely fictitious Yanks who team up for a series of misadventures.
There’s Ewell (helmer Nancy Bishop), an aspiring theater director who becomes increasingly angry and starts a feminist band; rebellious womanizing young writer E. Thomas Kranepool (James Babson), who scribbles lousy verse on beer coasters; pert businesswoman Lucy Loden (Ellen Savaria), whose naive efforts to Americanize local business practices land her in hot water; and mime Ian Klinghoffer (Joel Sugerman), who bristles at the term for his wordless performances.
The intentions of the four are pure, even if their perceptions are a little off.
Popping up to comment on these and other foibles of living abroad are egghead prof Phylis Gardner (Andrea Miltner) and real-life expat cultural icon Alan Levy, longtime Prague resident and editor of the English-lingo daily Prague Post from 1991 until his death earlier this year. It was Levy who first wrote about Prague as “the Left Bank of the ’90s” and “Second Chance City,” sparking the initial influx of expats in those halcyon days.
Helmer Bishop knows whereof she speaks, having emerged as an in-demand casting director for Hollywood productions in Prague (she’s working on Roman Polanski’s “Oliver Twist” there).
The easy wit of Tony Laue’s script is modestly infectious, with the good sense to keep the pace snappy and most of the jokes to the point. And if that point — these people are in Prague because they wouldn’t cut it for a second at home — is a cruel one, credit the enthusiastic perfs and an overall fundamental benevolence for keeping the tone light.
Pic loses balance with a dramatic element culminating with Ian’s silly suicidal distress, and many of the gags seem tooled for the locals. Yet in the end, pic scores vivid and often poignant points about the relative intractability of the Czech spirit and the resolutely chipper Americans blind to their own self-absorbed condescension.
Local thesp Karel Roden, whose ferocious character work in pics from “15 Minutes” to the upcoming “Bourne Supremacy” has rendered him baddie du jour, pops in and out as a cryptic character called “The Crone” — a reference to the Kafka quote about Prague’s allure that precedes the film. Other cameos include “Big Beat” and “Men’s Show” actor Martin Dejdar and Ester Geislerova.
Tech credits are OK on an obviously tight budget. Jim Madigan’s caustic folkie ballad “Prague” is reason enough to sit through the closing credits.