EXCUSE ME FOR LIVING, the new film by writer-director-producer Ric Klass, functions most effectively as a reminder that commitment and pure intentions alone will not result in movie magic. According to Klass’ personal Web site, he has worked for HUD, NASA, and private equity firms, and Excuse Me is his second film (his first since 1990). The takeaway from this information is two-fold. First, Klass apparently did not bring much wisdom of experience to his sophomore effort. Secondly, while Klass has, without a doubt, poured immeasurable time and resources into making a second film, it would have been better spent pursuing any of his other careers or interests.
At the center of the action is Dan (Tom Pelphrey, formerly of “As the World Turns”), a drug-addicted manchild from a rich New York family who is sent to a psych clinic following an unsuccessful suicide attempt. He is put under the care of Dr. Bernstein (Robert Vaughn), who brings Dan along to his weekly senior men’s club at the local temple. One night after a meeting, Dan meets and immediately falls for Dr. Bernstein’s daughter, Laura (Melissa Archer, formerly of “One Life to Live”). Routine “stay away from my daughter” shenanigans ensue, as do a barrage of half-baked romantic subplots featuring a cast that is too large for any supporting characters to flesh themselves out.
The film’s promotional material describes Dan as “charming,” and Pelphrey makes clear through his performance that he is attempting to channel McMurphy, Jack Nicholson’s lovable hellion from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Pelphrey certainly has onscreen presence, but his awkward zingers are anything but charming. Most of the characters’ dialogue is so stale that it would suffice as a last-minute substitute for croutons. Klass seems to be attempting to weave a Woody Allen-style ensemble romantic comedy. However, the only area in which Excuse Me successfully mimics a Woody Allen film is their recent tendency to feature young characters that speak like disconnected old men.
The unconvincing younger characters will most likely not be a deterrent to the film’s target demographic. Excuse Me spares no opportunity to be a voice the frustrations of older men toward the younger generation and their perceived decay of the nuclear family. One subplot deals with the separation proceedings of Dan’s parents (Wayne Knight and Maureen Mueller), and formerly cutthroat billionaire-martial-arts-master (seriously) divorce attorney (Ewa de Cruz, also from “As the World Turns”) who has a change of heart and strives to reunite them.
Most unpleasant are the scenes during the men’s meetings in which a bunch of old men – which tragically includes the legendary Jerry Stiller – complain about their ex-wives and the infrequent visits from their grown children. The ageing process is, of course, an immense component of the human condition and worthy of exploration as Vittorio de Sica demonstrated in the near-perfect Umberto D. However, the banter in Excuse Me comes of more as a humorless parody of the two old audience members from “The Muppet Show.”
Rounding out the list of the film’s offenses is Christopher Lloyd portraying one of the clinics patients – as if viewers needed another reminder that their time would be better spent watching Cuckoo’s Nest instead.
Klass clearly has plenty that he wants to say about life, but his writing and directing contain no nuance whatsoever. Hopefully, his next venture will offer more subtlety. Or even more preferable: he sticks to one of his many day jobs and bankrolls filmmakers with more talent.
Excuse Me for Living. Runtime: 105 min. Starts Friday, October 12 at Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino. Also available through iTunes and Video On Demand.
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