Like Lambic, another Belgian import, Dominique Deruddere’s weirdly compelling caper comedy Everybody’s Famous! is both pleasantly sweet and cringe-inducingly sour. Unemployed would-be songwriter Jean (Josse De Pauw) improvises a kidnapping to wangle a singing career for his talented but unmotivated teenage daughter, Marva (Eva Van der Gucht). A cuckolded coworker, a manipulative talent agent (Victor Löw, whose spot-on ’70s-casualty persona nearly steals the movie), and the Low Countries version of Christina Aguilera figure into Jean’s hugely unlikely scheme.
Despite its dated corniness, predictability, and offhand sexism (picture The King of Comedy as a skit on The Benny Hill Show), Everybody’s Famous! is too brisk and plucky to resist. By the umpteenth performance of the song that makes improbable stars of Jean and Marva—a grating pseudo-bolero that lingers in the mind like a bad hangover—you may be forced to agree with an on-screen newscaster who sums up the film’s events as “a high day for Flemish showbiz.”
Off the Hook, Tisch grad Adam Watstein’s South Bronx homage to Mean Streets, puts showbiz on the back burner for its low-key exploration of a troubled ghetto friendship. Straight-arrow rapper Walter Velasquez (playing himself in what amounts to a biopic) struggles to keep his drug-dealing partner, Lorenzo (forceful newcomer Jamal Mackey), from self-destructing as the two launch their hip-hop careers. Along the way, Velasquez moves in with Lorenzo’s sister Narine (Pamela Johnson), who is pregnant with his child, takes a job with platitude-spouting community activist Anthony Young (who also plays himself), and nurses a tentative record industry contact. Lorenzo makes himself scarce after a stint in jail, surfacing in time for a heartbreaking showdown with his former corner cronies. Watstein handily directs and edits around his screenplay’s sappier elements (the “we are family” coda is particularly strained) and sustains Off the Hook‘s buildup with remarkable assuredness for a first-timer.