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Price Check

Parker Posey grabs the role of marginally psychotic supermarket schemer Susan Felders and squeezes it like an overripe organic cantaloupe.

With: Parker Posey, Eric Mabius, Annie Parisse, Josh Pais, Edward Hermann, Amy Schumer.

Parker Posey grabs the role of marginally psychotic supermarket schemer Susan Felders and squeezes it like an overripe organic cantaloupe in “Price Check,” helmer Michael Walker’s charming and slightly unhinged low-budget comedy. After a strong start, the pic itself has trouble checking out, but it provides a terrific showcase for indie princess Posey, leading a topnotch cast. Its graceful swing from giddy to sobering could appeal to a wide-ranging audience.

Walker’s parable of moral compromise opens at the colorless Long Island offices of a struggling supermarket chain, where the natives are restless. A new boss is coming in and everyone’s on tenterhooks, including Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius), a husband, father of one and former music marketer who failed his way into the grocery-pricing biz.

But when the boss materializes, she’s a total surprise. Energetic, enthusiastic and encouraging, Susan (Posey) wants to shake things up and expects everyone to get onboard. To inspire her team, she throws parties, gets them gym discounts and even doubles Pete’s salary. He and his wife, Sarah (the marvelous Annie Parisse), no longer have to worry about money; Pete comes out of his professional coma and engages with his work. It seems too good to be true, and of course, it is.

For the first half of the film, Susan’s erratic craziness keeps things popping. She gets Pete to tell her who should be fired, then fires the other guy. She guzzles Maalox and fields phone calls from her obsessive ex-boyfriend back in Los Angeles. She invites herself to the preschool Halloween party of Pete and Sarah’s son and comes dressed as a stripper Pocahontas. During an office party, she has sex with the most obnoxious guy in the office (a terrific Josh Pais). She has plans to ratchet up sales, and when the company chairman, Bennington (Edward Hermann) needs convincing, she drags Pete to L.A. to help her strong-arm the board. And to have sex.

“Price Check” takes a left turn at this point, and Susan — who only wants a baby — starts to slowly recede from the story. Her marketing strategies and the changes she insists on imposing are seemingly impossible, but somehow the folks in the office are pulling it off; Lila (Amy Schumer), who has some of the better comic moments in the film, delivers a Knute Rockne-esque pep talk that’s both shocking and hilarious.

But the focus of the film starts to shift toward Pete, who at first thinks he’s going to land the big L.A. job offered by Bennington, only to have the rug pulled out from under him. The subsequent tonal shifts aren’t jolting, but the momentum starts to ebb as the film becomes more sober. What had started out as unpredictable and whacky becomes more settled, although the same thing is happening to the characters. “Price Check” becomes more naturalistic and serious, but at the same time, it seems to be falling off a cliff.

There’s quite a bit about marketing and strategic sales bandied about in the pic, and while it may all be gibberish, it sounds believable. Schumer has some good lines, but Posey gets the lion’s share, her character a combination of the crafty and the clueless, the diplomatic and the tactless (Long Island, she notes, is “like the Valley, but the people are pale and yucky.”) She’s a wonderful character, and auds may well wish there were more of her.

Production values are low-budget without being too obvious about it, and Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’ music is noteworthy.

Price Check

Production: A Dolly Hall production. Produced by Hall. Directed, written by Michael Walker.

Crew: Camera (color), Sam Chase; editors, Michael Taylor, Jen Lame; music, Dean Wareham, Britta Phillips; music supervisor, Jackie Mulhearn; production designer, Nadya Gurevich; art directors, Lee Clayton, Lauren Fitzsimmons; costume designer, Astrid Brucker; sound, Micah Bloomberg; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Tom Paul; assistant director, Joe "JC" Ciccarella; line producer, Alli Maxwell; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 25, 2012. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: With: Parker Posey, Eric Mabius, Annie Parisse, Josh Pais, Edward Hermann, Amy Schumer.

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