Expanded from his Oscar-nominated short of the same title, Sean Ellis' Cashback centers on a young art student who has a special ability to pass time by freezing it. Whenever he uses this power, he's able to wander freely through human still lives—many of them female, pretty, and topless—and consider their beauty apart from the rush of time, which is a helpful trick for an aspiring painter. A former fashion photographer, Ellis leans heavily on this admittedly beautiful visual gimmick, but what might have been striking and original at 19 minutes loses its novelty at 102, leaving a thin premise that's been extended needlessly. In short form, Cashback simply dealt with how a quirky group of supermarket employees whiled away the endless hours of a night shift, but the feature version spoils that economy by tacking on a romantic subplot and indulging its hero's precious ruminations on love and art. It's like Amélie for the Maxim set.
Familiar as captain of the Quidditch team in the early Harry Potter films, Sean Biggerstaff gives an exceedingly muted performance as a student haunted by a bad breakup. With heartbreak driving him to insomnia, Biggerstaff gets a job working clean-up duty during the late shift at a local supermarket staffed by loveable weirdoes. Everyone has different ways of grinding out the slow-moving hours: The boss, who touts his past as a supposedly world-class soccer player, seems to model his employee relations after Ricky Gervais in The Office; a pair of juvenile nitwits pull pranks on each other all night; a mop boy nurtures a passing interest in karate; and a sullen check-out girl tapes over her watch to keep the clock from stopping. The latter, played by Emilia Fox, emerges as a love interview for Biggerstaff, who desperately needs to get over his last girlfriend, if only to catch some shut-eye.
Though graced with luscious imagery and dramatic soundtrack swells of Ravel and Bellini, all that useless beauty serves to prop up a conventional romantic comedy that's neither affecting nor funny. The purpose of Biggerstaff's "frozen world" slips into the voiceover narration, in the form of philosophies like love being "wrapped in beauty and hidden away between the seconds of your life," which sounds more profound than it becomes after a moment's reflection. Ellis seems to believe that artists have an enlightened sense of beauty and greater access to it than common folk. And he may be right: He's clearly mastered the skill of convincing art-school chicks to take their clothes off.