Academia is always fertile ground for satire — well, almost always. There’s a lot of snark but not much actual amusement in the university faculty hijinks of “Crimes Against Humanity,” Jerzy Rose’s second feature after 2011’s little-seen “Some Girls Never Learn.” Still, the film’s absurdist intrigue could find support for modest niche theatrical and home-format exposure among fans of such tonally similar (if better) recent comedies as “The Color Wheel” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me.”
Unpleasantly superior-acting while evidently inferior in every way, weasel-like Lewis (Mike Lopez) is a dean’s assistant tasked with investigating rumored ethical breaches by professors — bedding students, practicing Satanism, etc. He relishes this spying as a Grand Inquisitor might, further raising the hackles of tweed-jacketed prey already predisposed to dislike him. On the homefront, things aren’t much more cheerful, as Lewis routinely punctures any remaining self-esteem possessed by his unemployed live-in g.f., Brownie (Lyra Hill). When she meets a comparative Prince Charming (Ted Tremper) at a veterinarian’s office, it briefly looks like she might escape doormat status. But that’s just prior to her being hit by lightning, then struck by a car (both offscreen).
The film’s running joke of inflicting grievous harm on its female characters is but one instance of a mean-spiritedness that never quite morphs into a macabre wit. Some scenes feel like improv ideas that should have been left on the cutting-room floor, like an exchange between a DUI prof (Adam Paul) and a cop (Chris Sullivan) that goes on forever, trusting that tortuously unfunny dialogue has just got to turn hilarious sooner or later. It’s saying something when a faculty mixer titled “Oh the Humanities,” at which only Yma Sumac music is played, reps a relative comic highlight.
The actors are game, but whatever joke they’re in on just doesn’t translate as well as Rose or co-scenarist Halle Butler seemingly believe. The Chicago-shot pic is competently handled in tech and design departments.