waydowntown

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waydowntown

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waydowntown

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In writer-director Gary Burns' native Calgary, as in other less-than-tropical cities, a system of sealed, elevated walkways connects buildings in the heart of downtown. The system was designed to protect residents and workers from the harshness of the elements, but in Burns' third feature, waydowntown, it's also created a virtual subculture of those who use it, allowing them to experience life as a never-ending mall. As the film opens, four coworkers are on the 24th day of taking the lifestyle to its inevitable extreme, having bet a month's wages on who can stay indoors the longest. With a healthy stash of pot to take the edge off and an equally abundant supply of mind games, Fabrizio Filippo looks like the favorite. But over the course of one eventful lunch hour, he and his fellow players (Marya Delver, Gordon Currie, and Tobias Godson) individually face their toughest crises yet. Occasionally resembling an episode of Seinfeld taken to the big screen, waydowntown shares that show's ability to mine mundane details for humor, and its Tomorrowland-gone-awry setting provides plenty of raw material. Thanks to the mobility afforded by digital video, Burns is free to explore every corner of his setting, and he seems intent on doing just that. As Filippo tries to pick up a retirement gift for his boss, for example, he passes booths designed for smoking and for stress-relieving screams, which suggest he and his outdoor-shunning friends might simply be ahead of their time. But the situation beneath the surface is far less orderly. "Under their calm façade, I think most of these people would love to get back to the jungle," Filippo observes early on, and Burns plays out the metaphor by showing the chaos bubbling under his hermetic world. Clever, if slightly undernourished and padded even at its lunch-hour-friendly running time, waydowntown never quite gets beyond its own premise, but it also never fails it. One ill-advised late-innings turn toward seriousness and some dubious pensive narration aside, Burns remains happy simply to let his characters' claustrophobia and their self-contained universe break each other down. The presence of an ant farm at Filippo's work station might overstate the case a bit, but waydowntown's vision of a world that's erased the polite lines separating work, recreation, commerce, and death still looks like one where it's best to hang onto the option of leaving.

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