Seven years after his 54 debacle, writer-director Mark Christopher scrambles back to low-budget indie filmmaking with Pizza, a low-ambition, low-impact comedy that plays like a feature-length sitcom pitch. Kylie Sparks stars as a chubby, geeky high-school girl who intends to celebrate her 18th birthday with her recently blinded mother Julie Hagerty, until a philosophical pizza guy in a charitable mood urges Sparks to ride with him for the night. Ethan Embry plays the pizza guy, a 30-year-old would-be political activist who quotes Noam Chomsky to get girls into bed. He shows Sparks that there's a place in the world for misfits like the both of them, while she spends the night trying to prove that he's not as well-adjusted as he thinks.
Christopher has a remarkable asset in Sparks, who looks like a rounded Hope Davis and acts like a total spaz. She's exuberant, warm, and adorably pathetic—destined to be some gay guy's best friend once she leaves her small town for college. But Christopher is less lucky with Embry, who looks and acts like what he actually is: a knockaround Hollywood stud squeezing in an indie between pilot seasons. The character is meant to be clever and charismatic, with all his spieling about pizza as part of "the wheel of commerce," but in the end he's just a type, unrecognizable outside the confines of a screen.
Pizza contains a handful of vivid moments, including a tender dance sequence set to "To Sir With Love," and several scenes where Christopher lingers on people's reactions to the startlingly awkward Sparks. But since he's aiming for a kind of genial wisdom, Christopher ultimately wants the audience to say "aww," not "eww." And Pizza really needs more "eww." A John Hughes homage without the keen adolescent anthropology or sense of lived-in suburbia has to fall back on daring discomfort. Instead, Christopher delivers cutesy jabber and one-note characters, as oily and devoid of substance as… well, you know.