LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - A director buys a ticket to a horror movie he hasn't made yet and asks the projectionist to stop the screening so he can improve the sound mix. A little girl watches her dad gut a wild boar in the kitchen and swears she sees a bright blue VHS cassette among the entrails. Wearing a giant rat costume, the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite can't stop itching while hosting a cooking show. Most people don't laugh in their dreams, and they won't here, either.
Weird is easy, and in Dupieux's case, it's what this cult helmer's supporters have come to expect from his small but nonconformist oeuvre, accepting even lazy eccentricity as a welcome break from cookie-cutter cinema. "Reality" was backed by the same producer who enabled "Wrong" and its even-less-right spinoff, "Wrong Cops," and though it's less outwardly gonzo, this bizarrely bilingual (but mostly English-language) follow-up has pretty much the same feel: unremarkable, over-saturated hi-def lensing that makes Los Angeles look as if someone put it through the washer too many times.
Maybe someone has. In the year 2014, it's hard to find much that hasn't been said before in other, better showbiz satires (though "Birdman," which also bowed in Venice, proves it's possible), so Dupieux distracts himself with the idea of blurring the acts of dreaming and directing. It's hard to be sure, but "Reality" may even be some sort of personal statement, centering on a French camera operator (Alain Chabat) with a really terrible idea for a movie. He pitches it to an ADD producer (Jonathan Lambert), who greenlights the project on the condition that the helmer find the perfect groan.
That would actually be a pretty good starting place for a movie, but the character is a total hack, and instead of working with a sound designer or doing some sort of sadistic Method research (whereby he inflicts pain on strangers to hear how they groan), he just sits in his car with a tape recorder, trying to come up with the right noise. Could this half-assery be a metaphor for Dupieux's screenwriting process? In addition to writing and directing, Dupieux acts as his own d.p. and editor, meaning there's no one to filter out the bad ideas -- or to make the decent ones better.
And so, an elementary school principal (Eric Wareheim of Adult Swim duo Tim and Eric) tells his therapist about a dream in which he cross-dressed and drove around in a military Jeep. Or was that something he did in "reality"? The little girl retrieves the bloody videotape from the trash and watches the movie already in progress. Her name is Reality, by the way, and her bad acting (courtesy of Kyla Kennedy) just might be deliberate. Jon Heder's character, the itchy cooking-show host, discovers that he has eczema of the brain. And then the director wakes up, but it's not clear where or at what level in this multi-layered funhouse-mirror distortion he actually exists, or if he even does.
Embracing schlock like it was going out of style, Dupieux seems to have set out to make a turkey, embracing -- perhaps for the first time in the history of cinema -- all the tryptophan-triggered, sleep-inducing qualities that might entail. "I'm sick of this movie," the girl complains about 70 minutes in, and it's hard not to agree, even if Dupieux is doing it all by design. IFC's trailer for his last pic claimed to be rated "wrong" for "heavy repetitive beats and surreal content," and in reality, this one offers more of the same.