A slow-motion car crash of miscalculated charisma, BuzzKill lives and rapidly dies by Daniel Raymont’s grating lead performance. As a struggling screenwriter nearing the end of the line, he’s a man in desperate straits: A former tenant recently died in his apartment, there’s a rotting animal moldering in the walls, and his agent thinks he should give up on his ultra-depressing labor of love and try writing something called Black Santa. Viewers who haven’t already tuned out may recognize the agent’s voice as that of Martin Short in Jiminy Glick mode; Short is one of several Second City alums who lend their presences to BuzzKill, which was produced under the storied improv company’s banner. But the movie’s cashed-in favors can’t offset its cheap look and lazy writing, or the void left by its ostensible leads. Raymont’s character is meant to be self-involved (for a writer, it’s practically a job requirement), but as Raymont plays him, he’s brittle and humorless, a comic caricature with the blood squeezed out. There’s no impetus to root for his success or relish his failure, just to pray that he goes away, and quickly.
A chance call from an interested producer sets Raymont on a road trip to the coast, with bubbly waitress Krysten Ritter in tow. They get along for a few minutes, until his painfully swollen testicle interferes with a motel-room tryst, but before long, she’s had enough of his wet-blanket persona and jumps ship, tossing the only copy of his newly rewritten script—now with a marginally less-depressing ending!—to the winds. The fact that Raymont is still bashing out his pages on a battered Selectric is a good indication of the decrepit jokes on offer.
Now well and truly on his own, Raymont picks up a singular support in the person of the Karaoke Killer (Darrell Hammond), an aesthetically minded murderer who takes an instant liking to the manuscript. As thinly conceived as his character is, Hammond manages to eke out a few moments of genuine creepiness (a few more than on Damages, at least); with his slicked-back blonde hair and well-groomed manner, he seems like an alien still getting a feel for his human body.
The rendezvous between egocentric writer and roving serial killer casts BuzzKill as a bargain-basement Barton Fink, with an ending that rips off—sorry, pays homage to—The Player. But where the Coens’ movie about tapped-out inspiration had plenty of its own, BuzzKill is just as hard up for ideas as its profoundly grating protagonist.