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Losing the Plot at Sundance

Fame, of course, has long been Sundance's prized commodity, rags-to-riches uplift its overarching narrative. The power dynamics between the famous and the almost famous provided queasy subtexts for a number of films. Pete Jones's Stolen Summer was presumably allowed into the festival only for being the train-wreck end product of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Miramax-sponsored screenwriting contest-cum-reality TV series, Project Greenlight. The plot beggars belief: Catholic cherub, in cutely misguided attempt to convert neighborhood Jews, befriends leukemia-stricken rabbi's son. Sanctimonious and offensively ham-handed in dealing with childhood loss and disillusionment, Stolen Summer might as well be called Pray It Forward. Ludi Boeken's deliciously titled Britney Baby—One More Time positions Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank, the subjects of the documentary American Movie (itself a kind of self-fulfilling fame game), as the "stars" of a road movie "based on a true story," playing documentarians who attempt to pass off a male Britney Spears impersonator (Robert Stephens, playing himself) as the genuine article. The conceptual frisson sustains the movie briefly, but the writing and directing are so flat-footed you expect Jay and Silent Bob to show up any minute. (Doesn't help that Stephens looks more like Tina Yothers.)

The reality TV craze is skewered in Run Ronnie Run!, the first feature from the great minds behind HBO's Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. Plucked from his local Tas-tee Liquor by Hollywood fop Terry Twillstein (Odenkirk), ne'er-do-well Ronnie (Cross) becomes the star of a Cops-like show in which he gets arrested every week on national television. It's not the satire, such as it is, that counts but the film's whiplash speed and supreme indifference in pushing through a revolving door of modes and alienation effects, and—no kidding—its epistemological investigation into the very nature of comedy. (Designated pull-quote for New Line publicity: Run Ronnie Run! is this year's Pootie Tang!) The musical highlights are especially unclassifiable: a Mandy Patinkin showstopper, a relatively unironic deployment of Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," a supercatchy love theme by Cross and Odenkirk's lubricious slow-jam duo Three Times One Minus One that rhymes "dirty magazines" with "tangerines" with "Ben Vereen," and comes with a fully realized, beautifully literal-minded music video. It may not be a metaphor for life, but Run Ronnie Run! was, in a sense, this scattered festival's other defining work: a post-everything meta-farce.

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