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Friday, April 27, 2012


Tim (Chris Messina) and Janice (Jenna Fischer)
get to know each other in The Giant Mechanical Man.

2 Stars

Calling Lee Kirk's The Giant Mechanical Man slight would be a massive understatement. It's infinitesimal. It focuses on two kindly individuals going through pre-mid-life, mid-life crises. That's a subject certainly worthy of the screen, but any film this formulaic just isn't. The characters are flat and frustrating, the beats are totally predictable, and the final outcome is supremely underwhelming.

Janice (Jenna Fischer) and Tim (Chris Messina) are both reaching a crossroads in their respective lives. She's moving from temp job to temp job, unable to scrape up enough to pay her rent, so she's forced to move in with her overbearing sister, Jill (Malin Ackerman), who's hellbent on setting her up with a pedantic self-help writer, Doug (Topher Grace). Tim, meanwhile, has just been dumped by his live-in girlfriend (Lucy Punch), who didn't support him in his passion—dressing up as a mechanical man on stilts and entertaining people on the streets across the city. Both Tim and Janice end up getting jobs at the local zoo (he's a janitor, she sells grape-juice-filled gorillas. The two meet and hit it off, but they're both too vulnerable to admit their true feelings for the other.

Tim and Janice are inherently likable individuals and an easy pairing to root for. The problem is more with those around them. Take Jill and her husband, Brian (Rich Sommer). They care for Janice, but they become fixated on the idea that she should date this Doug character, even though his douchiness threatens to suffocate Janice (and us). Their stupidity frustrates us as much as, if not more than, Doug's, who's just a dumb, dreadful caricature. By surrounding Tim and Janice with morons, it makes their getting together a no-brainer. As such, there's not much conflict because they really don't have anyone or anything else going for them.

At least the film has Fischer and Messina. The former is adorable, the latter just as appealing. I'm not sure how much of the mechanical man stuff was really Messina, but whomever is doing it, it looks pretty cool. When it's just the two of them onscreen, the film works (though it never really jumps off the screen at you). Too often, though, they part to spend time with the nitwits in their lives.

The film is an indie stereotype through and through—it features everything you'd expect out of, say, a Fox Searchlight dramedy, right down to the emotional inauthenticity and forced quirkiness. It really doesn't work on any level. At least it's short, however (only 90 minutes), and the two leads are pleasant. But minus those few plusses, this is a skippable film in every sense of the word.

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