There's something inherently narcissistic about most show-business satires. This is particularly true of Incident At Loch Ness, a real-life collaboration between famed arthouse madman Werner Herzog and Last Action Hero screenwriter Zak Penn, about a fictional collaboration between Herzog and Penn. As if that weren't self-reflective enough, the leaden comedy takes the form of a mockumentary about the making of a fictional documentary. Writer-director Penn casts himself as the film's heavy, but it still feels like an ego trip, an opportunity for him to share a producer's credit and screen time with an international master several depths out of his league. The creative circle jerk also flatters Herzog's ego, casting him as the pure, uncompromising hero and playing on his persona as an intense, ambitious artist willing to go to great lengths to fulfill his creative vision.
Veteran cinematographer and sometime director John Bailey (playing, naturally, himself) co-stars as a documentarian making a film about Herzog's life and work, including the film about the Loch Ness monster that Herzog is making for greedy producer Penn. Herzog wants to artily examine the complicated role that monsters, real and imagined, play in humanity's psyche. But Penn—whose shaved head and pudgy features make him look unnervingly like an enormous baby—is a mercenary Hollywood phony who wants a crowd-pleaser full of money shots involving Herzog chasing down Nessie, and he's willing to play fast and loose with reality to achieve his vision. Incident's gags play off easy, reductive contrasts pitting reality against artifice, art against entertainment, and principled auteur Herzog against sleazy flim-flam man Penn. In order for this material to work, the film would need to move at a frenetic pace, but Incident operates at a crawl, and the mockumentary format proves a startlingly inefficient vehicle for comedy. The film's gags can be counted on two hands, and the best provoke smiles, but little more.
A wittier or more subversive comedy might have tweaked expectations by reversing roles, casting Herzog as the cynical showman and Penn as the snookered idealist, but Incident is too reverent for its own good. It could use a big blast of Herzog-like madness, but it sticks to the conventional show-business satire's arsenal of clichés.