If you ever begin to doubt the maxim that “dying is easy, but comedy is hard,” I might suggest checking out “Alt.sex.” But then you’d probably hold the suggestion against me.
Written, directed, produced, edited and photographed by Massachusetts based commercial filmmaker Eric Bickernics, “Alt.sex” is the story of John (John MacLeod), a teddy-bearish wage slave whose daily life seems to be a sort of combination of “Office Space” and “The Drew Carey Show.” Before we know it John’s attractive but evil girlfriend and coworker (Lauren Verge) is caught on videotape cheating with the office jerk (Darby Duffin) in one of several scenes designed for maximum, laugh-free humiliation. Then, we launch quickly into “Swingers” mode as poor John attempts to find a replacement romance, egged on by the standard motley trio of immature office buddies (Geoff Briggs, Phil Rectra, and John Horrigan) who, in true sitcom style, accompany John practically everywhere.
And, yes, while the film does not really deal very much with Internet sex, John does spend some time in a chat room and mishandling some related problems, but that all feels a little like an afterthought. That’s probably just as well because watching someone participate in a chat room is about as interesting as watching me write this review. Bickernics tries to dress it up with some graphics, computer generated voices and the hero’s habit of saying everything he’s typing, but it’s still only about as interesting as, well, watching me write this review. On the other hand, it does lead to a scene involving putative conjoined twins, which didn’t really make me laugh that much, but which did remind me that I need to finally get around to seeing “Twin Falls Idaho.”
“Alt.sex” is not all bad, but it fails in it’s comedic prime directive of being funny. The story and dialogue are badly in need of doctoring, and the cast provides little life-support, mostly because they seem consistently aware that they’re in a comedy that is supposed to be really funny. In particular star John MacLeod tries way, way too hard to channel “Play it Again, Sam” era Woody Allen. It’d be easy to blame the actor, but it’s the director’s job to tell him to cut it out, and the evidence suggests he was encouraged to mug. All in all, there’s an obvious desperation for laughs throughout, evinced by the shot of a little dog eating it’s own feces.
On the plus side, a few members of the cast do okay. In particular, Lauren Verge makes a believable girlfriend-from-hell, Geoff Briggs is the funniest person onscreen simply for being one of the very few believable computer geniuses I’ve seen in a movie; Phil Rectra and Juliet Bowler as a tart-tongued coworker also manage decent moments in fairly hopeless situations. The pacing is mercifully peppy throughout, the super-16 photography and production values are crisp and attractive in the face of a minuscule budget for a shot-on-film production, and a better-than-decent garage-rock driven score helps keep things going.
Finally, fans of “Roger Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary” might get a kick out of seeing film-critic/computer maven Andy Ihnatko in a cameo as the host of a “Faces of Death”-type video. (His performance won’t make me forget that he created “the Shelley Winters Index” but it’s nice to see him anyway.)
But it’s all more or less for naught. To end with another truism, “comedy is serious business” and, as “Alt.sex” confirms, filmmakers who forget that are beggin’ for a pan!