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by Jay Seaver

"Does get under the skin, at least a bit."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Apparently "splinterheads" are a subset of what I've always thought of as "carnies", but that's apparently like calling a sailor, Marine, or airman a "soldier" - outsiders may think it's close enough, but in actuality it's not. Carnies work the rides, splinterheads the midway, and neither does much mixing with the townies.

Justin (Thomas Middleditch) is just about the towniest townie who ever towned. He lives with his mom Susan (Lea Thompson) and works mowing lawns with his best friend Wayne (Jason Rogel). Local cop Bruce (Christopher McDonald) is making Justin's life tough after Susan dumped him because of something Justin said, and he's got a perfect excuse when Justin drives away from a gas station after paying the girl running a game rather than the cashier. Just seens the girl, Galaxy (Rachael Taylor), working the dunk tank at the carnival which just came to town, which figures, doesn't it? So despite her attractiveness, he is somewhat less than pleased when their paths cross again the next morning.

Splinterheads could very easily have poured on the syrup with talk of destiny, fate, and stuff like that. Thankfully, it knows better than to act as if a comedy that goes for the rare triple meet-cute has any real mystery about how it's going to end. It's also not breaking any particular ground in having Galaxy not just be beautiful and outgoing, but have hobbies that are quirky but also show off just how cool she is, while Justin is a perpetually tongue-tied goofball. You can see the thuggish splinterhead boyfriend coming a mile away.

There are fun characters off to the side, thankfully. Sure, Rogel's Wayne Cheung is an annoying staple of the youth-oriented comedy, the sidekick who is loud and gross but seldom actually funny. Edmund Lyndeck could be another annoying stereotype - the really old guy who is crude - but he sells the jokes as well-timed and executed, and to his and writer/director Brant Sersen's credit, Grampa Albert is not an old guy incongruously acting young; he's an actual character. Christopher McDonald racks up approximately his thousandth entertaining supporting performance, and Lea Thompson makes it easy to understand why he's crazy for her even when she wants nothing to do with him. The carnival people are, generally, pretty amusing as well.

It's a nice mix Sarsen has come up with, and a real improvement on his previous effort, Blackballed. The characters and situations are a good balance of everyday and offbeat; the romance is charming and understated. The comedy's kind of crude at times, but Sarsen does better than many in having it not just be vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity. He could do a bit better on that, but there's worse.

Still, the border between cute and raunch is tough to find, and Sarsen does better than most. "Splinterheads" is kind of a generic romantic comedy with dick jokes, but it's not bad at all as those things go.

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originally posted: 03/18/09 20:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 23-Feb-2010


  DVD: 23-Feb-2010

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