Alec Thames (Chris Sparling) is a 24-year old writer wallowing in existentialist funk. This wannabe penmeister general has never lived up to the promise of a grade school writing award received for “An Uzi at the Alamo,” his creative essay on how that historic battle might have panned out if submachine guns had been involved. Since then, our film’s narcissistic hero has drifted into self-pity, announcing to his oddball family that he’s planning to celebrate his twenty fifth birthday in a particularly novel way.
He’s going to kill himself.
Not exactly a recipe for hilarity, even though the makers of “An Uzi at the Alamo” play this premise for light-hearted laughs (maybe shooting for a “Harold and Maude,” gallows humor vibe). The irony of Thames’ suicidal gesture is that everyone around him is too disinterested to take him seriously.
And they’re an irritatingly quirky bunch. Uncle Heiman beats his meat in the shower, bursting into falsetto at the moment of sudsy climax. Dad is a candy manufacturer whose employees proudly (and literally) proclaim themselves as “fudge packers.” Mom is obsessive compulsive, serving veggies and other foodstuffs in groups of three. His brother Russ is a bullying, hotheaded martial arts instructor. Donning hair curlers and a frumpy nightgown, a wacky, old-lady neighbor springs from behind clotheslines with an air rifle to sling bee-bee shot at Thames’ trespassing tush.
And so on.
“An Uzi at the Alamo” is going for the bittersweet, coming-of-age flavor that Cameron Crowe so effortlessly pulls off. It’s also straining for the neurotic family whimsy of “Napoleon Dynamite,” or Wes Anderson. But capturing the right delicate comic tone in a film like this is rare as lightning in a bottle, and it’s seldom achieved. Thames’ mother explains where her relationship with Dad went south, stating, “He’s Irish English. But he pretended to be Portuguese. I refuse to take second place to a false sense of nationalism.” This is dialogue that sounds cuter to its writer than it does to the audience.
There are some funny bits here and there, like a cop bent on revenge against teachers who razzed him in high school. When he forces a lead-footed lit teacher to brandish chalk and write “I Will Not Speed” along the curb, it’s goofy in a “Naked Gun,” anything-for-a laugh way. There’s another inspired scene that initially threatens to be a knock-down, drag-out duel to the death – before it turns into a benign “scissors, paper, rock” competition. But most of “An Uzi at the Alamo” plays like recycled Woody Allen, as Thames ponders life, finds love and reconsiders his decision to buy the farm.
“Dump the post-grunge, ‘I’m so misunderstood’ routine,” suggests Russ to his sad-sack bro. It’s good advice. Too bad no one recommended the same strategy to the screenwriter of “An Uzi at the Alamo.”