Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire is named for the supposedly polar personalities of two brothers, as christened by their half-Native American grandmother. This conceit, like many things in the movie, is dropped and never pursued. The movie’s slacker tempo is set by the Christmas season, which, in this blandly accurate L.A., reads as bleachy and lonely. Life has fallen into routine for Chris and Tony (real-life siblings Derick and Steven Martini), as the opening coital crosscutting reveals. The elder Chris (the goat) lies benumbed atop his longtime girlfriend; in the next room, Tony (the fish) boisterously knocks boots with Nicole, whose discovery of an alien condom wrapper fragment highlights the former’s philandering. Chris, the accountant and breadwinner (Tony’s an actor), is then called on to chauffeur his boss’s Uncle Clive around, and—poof—this wizened black guru has the answers to his romantic impasse: something called “magnetic perfection,” which he claims can be heard on the soundtrack of a Paul Robeson movie on which he was the boom man.
The rest of the movie plays ping-pong with these regular dudes as they recalibrate their lives around new women. In this visually malnourished film, quirks substitute for character. Roast beef dribbles out of a meat-slicer while Chris stares blankly, thinking of his girlfriend’s pregnancy and his future. This wince-worthy emasculating suggestion is but one of several animal-sexual-gastronomic bits—the better ones involve Clive (great character actor Bill Henderson, playing with laid-back, lumpy verve), whose donut diet will form a cholesterol bridge to the afterlife and back to his true love. Less tolerable are the jazz Muzak score and the intermittently deployed accents. Are the characters or the actors New York transplants? Why does the Italian’s dialect suggest Roseanne Roseannadanna?