Shot with a boxy, old Sony Portapak video cam, Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess is a deadpan mock-documentary about an early-'80s gathering of programming nerds, arguing about AI and predictive algorithms and showing off questionable fashion choices and facial hair.
At a certain point, Bujalski - the mumblecore meister, gleefully pushing the envelope of credulity here - jettisons the mock-doc pretense for a Christopher Guest-like glimpse into a strange subculture of the everyday.
The setting is a nondescript hotel. The people are geeks from MIT and the U.K., tapping code into their clunky machines in a contest that pits computer against computer in an epic chess match.
They're mostly guys, of course, though there is Shelly Flintic (Robin Schwartz), the tournament's first female programmer. Mike Papageorge (Myles Paige), a blowhard who doesn't have a room (his quest for a bed turns into a running joke), is one of the socially challenged males trying to put the moves on her.
And then there's the group-encounter couples who have booked the hotel's conference rooms, too. Painfully shy boy brainiac Peter Bishton (Patrick Riester) gets invited up to a swinging husband and wife's room - they think these newfangled computers are fascinating! - for a friendly chat. It does not end well.
A wandering cat and a mysterious hooker add an element of David Lynch-ian weirdness to the proceedings, which have been captured in fuzzy black-and-white. Except for a stretch that's in color, that is - just another thing to throw things happily out of whack.
Computer Chess *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Andrew Bujalski. With Patrick Riester, Myles Paige, Robin Schwartz, and Wiley Wiggins. Distributed by Kino Lorber.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Bourse