Buster’s Mal Heart

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My wife is a huge fan of Mr. Robot. I’ve never seen an episode, but after actor Rami Malek was so sweet to her at the Critics’ Choice Awards one year, I easily became a fan. As we sat there watching this movie, she kept mentioning how much the character was like his paranoid hacker Elliott in Mr. Robot.

In writer/director Sarah Adina Smith’s (The Midnight Swim) second film, she throws some intriguing premises our way. But as the story continues to get weirder and weirder, you get frustrated by the lack of sense any of it makes. It’s all pretentious garbage that felt like a student film (including the edits). And that’s really a shame, because Malek is terrific in the part.

It’s always fun to examine the bizarre nature of the human psyche, especially when you’re dealing with a guy that isn’t getting enough sleep. Yet in The Machinist (Christian Bale), it all ended up paying off and making sense. In this, it never does. It just keeps getting bizarre, and some scenarios never even relate to anything or make a bit of sense.

At some points, Malek is drifting on a boat looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway. He curses at God in Spanish, and has frogs around him like he’s in a Paul Thomas Anderson film [fun fact: Malek was in the PT Anderson movie The Master]; or maybe beset by a plague – after all his name is Jonah. Oh, and he does a scene that reminded me of another PT Anderson film — Punch Drunk Love. It’s when Malek, as a drifter named “Buster” by the local authorities, breaks into winter homes owned by rich folks. He calls a sex line and it’s a rather humorous exchange. Yet since we’re told he always leaves these cabins impeccably clean, we’re still trying to figure out why he jumped onto a counter and took a dump into a dutch oven (gives a whole new meaning to giving a person a “Dutch oven”).

The third “character” we see Malek play, is an overnight concierge at a hotel, where he entertains himself watching goofy late night psychics on TV. It’s right before Y2K, so when they talk about the end of the world, we can understand him perhaps buying into it all. When a stranger (DJ Qualis) walks into the hotel and starts spouting off the similar themes about the end of the world, it never really resonates with Malek. He always looks at the guy like he’s a nut, despite giving him a free room and pouring him a drink after the bar has closed. Yet because I’ve seen terrific movies like Another Earth and Donnie Darko (which I immediately made my wife watch the next night, since she hadn’t seen it), I thought this might go down interesting paths. It never did.

We see Malek has a wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) and young daughter. They’re living with her parents, which isn’t going so well. He spouts off about not wanting to get an apartment because he wants to use their money to buy some acreage and “live off the land.”

The scenes with Malek calling into late night talk shows were done horribly. In the movie Big Fan (Patton Oswalt), we saw how tormented somebody could get when made fun of by late night radio hosts.

He rants about the world coming to an end, and jumping into a giant “sphincter.” I wish those scenes would’ve been written better. Hell, I wish the whole movie would’ve been.

The whole thing was an incoherent mess that was emotionally flat. It’s a shame, because it could’ve been an intriguing psychological drama with fun flares of sci-fi. Instead, it was two hours that made me feel like I was being deprived of sleep.

This goes on my list of worst films of the year, despite a terrific performance from Malek.

1 star out of 5.