Temple grads master absurdist comedy in short bursts

Sundance Portrait - Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
Writer/directors Tim Heidecker, left, and Eric Wareheim, from the film "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie," pose for a portrait during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. (Victoria Will / Associated Press)

TEMPLE GRADS and local-boys-make-good Tim Wareheim and Eric Heidecker are masters of the absurdist comedy in short bursts.

Their contributions to Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim," and FunnyOrDie.com have won them a small but disturbed following.

In "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie," they try stretching their brand to feature length, starring as numbskull versions of themselves in a story of two would-be filmmakers who blow a large sum of studio money on a failed movie, then go into hiding at a rundown shopping mall, hired out as managers.

The mall is a way-off-the-interstate affair, so beset by financial troubles it looks like the post-apocalypse. There are cameos - Will Ferrell as a crooked mall exec, John C. Reilly as a diseased maintenance man. There's even a role for Twink Caplan, who played Miss Toby Geist in "Clueless" - here she's an older woman on whom Wareheim has an improbable crush.

"Billion Dollar Movie" has been available on VOD for some weeks now, and you can already find lively online fan debates about "Billion," They can be an acquired taste. In "Billion Dollar Movie," it's a taste you may un-acquire at about the 30 minute mark.

Let's set aside the movie's lax structure and lack of character arc - Wareheim and Heidecker are going for anti-movie, anti-narrative chaos. The problem may be one of pitch. When you start with a screaming Robert Loggia beating and torturing elderly women, and you hold that note for 90 minutes, it can wear an audience down. When a movie signals in Scene One that it will cross any line, it can take all the fun out of line-crossing.

In talking to the filmmakers last week, I was unsurprised to learn they were big fans of David Lynch. The nightmare images and strange outburts of violence in "Billion Dollar Movie" may remind you a bit of "Wild at Heart."

But Lynch's dreamy chaos was very carefully designed. "Billion Dollar Movie" has the feel of improv that reached for design after the fact, in editing, and never quite found it.

Contact Gary Thompson 215-854-5992 or thompsg@phillynews.com. Read his blog "Keep It Reel" at www.philly.com/keepitreel.

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

Directed by Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim. With Tim Heidecker, Robert Loggia, Zach Galifianakis, Jeff Goldblum, John C. Reilly, William Atherton, Eric Wareheim, Will Forte, Erica Durance, Will Ferrell. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 34 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for strong crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, comic violence and drug use).