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by Jay Seaver

"Hopefully a learning experience for those making it."
2 stars

Sometimes I hate meeting filmmakers. It kind of sucks to meet a nice enough guy like Castparty Productions's Justin Fielding, shake his hand, take his business card, give him your own, and sort of promise to write his independent comedy up, only to find that the best thing you can say is "better luck next time".

It's inventory time at the Mattress Warehouse store, so the store is closed but the entire staff is on-hand to count what's in stock - although, being slacker misfits, not a whole lot of work is likely to get done. There's mopey Eleanor (Amanda Hurley) and her ex-boyfriend Chuck (Ken Breese); bible-toting Bess (Irina Peligrad) and Ukranian immigrant Nastasia (Katarina Morhacova); nunchuck-wielding Jackie (Shelly Finnegan) and Tucker (Quentin James), about to start a new job; big-talker Greg (Christian Anthony), timid Percy (Dennis Hurley), and oddball Zoe (Cat Miller); along with manager Barbara (Chris Holliday) and store owner John Panda (Matt Carbo).

The template that Inventory follows isn't a bad one for an independent comedy - basically a single location that's big enough for the large cast not to be tripping over each other, just enough plot to give the movie a logical place to start and finish, and a potential ensemble of interesting characters. Fielding does a good job of jumping from one thread to another, spending enough time in each place to do something but not letting any specific bit drag. He's at his best when there are gags coming at a quick pace. There's potential for a snappy observational comedy here.

Unfortunately, Fielding-the-writer does not give Fielding-the-director a whole lot to work with. The premise that the movie's drama is meant to hang on is extremely thin, and even in a story full of strange characters, what passes for a stakes-raising moment just doesn't make a lot of sense. We learn about characters by having them each, at some point, more or less just stand up and recite their backstory and how it brought them to this point (the worst being many references to Barbara being a tough boss that are barely backed up with action). There are highly-removable sequences that aren't funny enough to justify their presence, in part because Fielding seems to have a better handle on broad, absurd humor but wants to make a movie with relatable characters and an uplifting center.

Of course, it can be tough to tell whether a bad script or a bad performance is at fault with comedy, and that's where Inventory finds itself in a lot of trouble. For instance, the character of Percy is given a one-note gimmick that Dennis Hurley completely fails to sell, and I've got no idea whether he's giving bad material the best he can or whether he mishandles potentially funny stuff. That's just the most egregious example; most of the cast seem to be friends who have worked with Fielding before, and while that sometimes leads to good, easy chemistry, here it just as often seems to be people out of their depth. Sometimes, the movie can work around that - Shelly Finnegan's shrieking isn't exactly great acting, but it works as good contrast with the calm, laid-back air Quentin James presents - but more often, it's not quite there.

"Inventory" has moments, to be sure. There just enough of them to see potential in the cast and crew, but not enough to say that this potential has come together in the form of a very good movie.

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originally posted: 06/12/11 14:51:46
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