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Neander-Jin: The Return of the Neanderthal Man
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by Jay Seaver

"This comedy's an evolutionary dead end."
1 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: It's one thing to watch a comedy that fails. It happens a lot, and for a number of reasons. This movie is something special, though - it's the sort of movie that makes one suspect that the people making it had heard of the ideas of comedy and storytelling, but had never seen them in effect. I'm sure that's not the case, but "Neander-Jin" is an object lesson in this funny movie stuff being a lot harder than it looks.

The name "Neanderthal Man" comes from the place where specimens were first found, the Neander valley near Dusseldorf in Germany. Fifty thousand years ago, one (Jon Chardiet) mystically disappeared, only to reappear in present-day Germany, where's he discovered by public-works employee Martin Arnold (Rick Zieff)... And political activist Barbara van Schmerling (Sarah Muehlhause)... And scheming would-be TV producer Marc Armagnac (Milton Welsh)...

Oh, never mind. It's not like the filmmakers care about the story, after all. The movie jumps from here to there to a third place without much in the way of rhyme or reason, often feeling like the script is being warped by some sort of gravitational time vortex that causes some characters to experience weeks in their subplot while others are doing something in a matter of hours. There's mention of some sort of global reality-TV contest, but director Florian Steinbiss and his co-writer Jeff Hixon don't spend any time on it; they've got a mind to say "reality TV is bad!" but can't be bothered to show it.

That's the general level of satire that the film is capable of - well, there's also a scene where a couple of unscrupulous doctors solemnly note that a character has state health insurance and decide to soak that for as long as possible, which is just as lazy and obvious but which at least contains something resembling a joke. That's more than can be said of the bulk of the movie, which features a lot of people mugging at the camera, doing weird things, but seldom actually making the audience laugh. There is almost no understanding of comic timing on display - Steinbiss and Hixon seem to know what a joke looks like and what it's supposed to do, but have no idea how to build one.

Steinbiss and Hixon each appear in the movie as well - Hixon as an opportunistic American expert on the paranormal, Steinbiss as Barbara's father - and their work as actors is just as flat as their work behind the camera. They give Jon Chardiet nothing to do as the title character, so he cant even work fish out of water or oddly-rapid assimilation. Other members of the cast show some potential in their stock roles - Rick Zieff might make an amiable roly-poly Mark Addy-type in the right circumstances, and I suspect Milton Welsh would know what to do with a joke if given one. Sarah Muehlhause gives indications that she might be charming under the right circumstances, but they don't let her do anything about it besides take off her glasses and let her hair down.

For some reason, despite being made in Germany with a mostly-German cast, this thing is in English, which just makes it even more bizarre: It's set in a specific place and all the jokes which have anything close to teeth are about that place, but the inconsistent accents and facility with the language rob it of any identity (and everybody working in a foreign language probably doesn't help their comedic instincts, either). I suppose that's a business decision, of the sort that the movie would otherwise try to spoof, but it's hard to see it actually working. A lot of terrible movies do well, sure, but this just doesn't seem to have anything to offer, even on the surface.

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originally posted: 02/15/12 03:18:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2012 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/23/12 kaori pham nothing special 2 stars
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