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The Independent


The Independent

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Three decades into a career that has produced 427 films, including Psychedelic Elevator, Kung Funk: The Funky Fu, Jazzercide, and What Planet Is This (Oh My God It's Earth), independent producer/director Morty Fineman (Jerry Stiller) has reached a professional impasse. He's run out of money, the future of his latest project (a T&A-heavy right-to-death thriller titled Ms. Kevorkian) is in jeopardy, and daughter Janeane Garofalo, the one person he trusts to help him, makes no attempt to hide her reluctance. Directed by Stephen Kessler and co-written by Kessler and Mike Wilkins, The Independent uses the mockumentary form to explore Stiller's world of low-budget, high-concept movie-making. The filmmakers' affection for their subject is evident in the many convincing clips drawn from the Fineman Films catalog, most of which borrow the Roger Corman formula of balancing sex and violence with attempts at social relevance. (Corman himself shows up to pay tribute to a one-time rival, alongside others with B-movie roots, like Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, and Fred Williamson.) Accurate and extremely funny when parodying the past, Kessler and Wilkins seem less assured in the present, particularly in early moments that appear inspired by the Fineman Films sensibility: If a scene has a coffin, why miss the chance to knock it to the ground? Fortunately, even in its phoniest moments, like a belabored subplot involving a serial killer whose life story Stiller wants to option, the cast wisely plays it straight. As Stiller's assistant, Max Perlich displays a naïve devotion to his mentor that nicely balances Stiller's deadpan conviction and Garofalo's mixture of concern and embarrassment. Initially, everything but the movie clips feels like filler, but by film's end, Stiller's plight has taken on considerable poignancy. Kessler and Wilkins do little to stretch the boundaries of the now-familiar mockumentary format, borrowing not only the spirit of This Is Spinal Tap but also the concepts of entire scenes, as when the filmmakers force Stiller to revisit the awful reviews of his career-killing multimillion-dollar epic The Whole Story Of America. Perhaps their lack of ambition is itself meant as a tribute to their subject, but it rarely dims the appeal of their fond and frequently hilarious film.