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By Phil Hall | February 26, 2011

Now here is something we haven’t seen since the 1927 Lon Chaney/Tod Browning production “The Unknown”: a film about a man who voluntarily seeks to have his arms amputated.

“Armless” focuses on a suburban man who is burdened with Body Identity Integrity Disorder. This medical condition involves the pursuit of limb removal – it seems that those afflicted with this disorder can only find inner serenity with external disfigurement.

Yes, it is a creepy idea for a film, and “Armless” benefits from Daniel London’s wonderfully underplayed performance as the troubled man who believes that he can only become whole if his arms are surgically removed. The tall, gaunt London gazes out at a world with eyes that mirror his character’s anguished soul, and his monologues on why he wants to pursue such extreme behavior are jolting to behold.

Unfortunately, the film loses its stride by surrounding this amazing central figure with painfully unfunny supporting characters that look and behave as if they’ve escaped from a rerun of “How I Met Your Mother”: a neurotic wife with a propensity for popping prescriptions, a yenta mother who babbles about yoga and her fondness for Asian men, a plastic surgeon who wants to leave his wife in order to go mountain climbing, the surgeon’s sarcastic receptionist and a would-be actor who labors as a hotel cashier. After a while, it appears as if two different films are taking place at once: London’s haunting character evolution and the rest of the cast acting like buffoons.

Part of the problem with the film may come from having “Armless” originate as a one-act 60-minute play that first appeared in the New York Fringe Festival. Padding the film to 88 minutes may explain the surplus of sitcom humor. But this ultimately dilutes the claustrophobic climax with London’s character promising to make good on his goals. Yet that sequence is ruined with blunt editing and a visible lack of chemistry among the cast. In the end, what could have been a striking production becomes a well-intended fumble.

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  1. Matt Sorrento says:

    So glad you mentioned Browning’s “The Unknown,” Phil — it’s a worthy comparison, since that film uses arm removal in place of castration (like Oedipus, blinding himself with his mother’s broach. Years later, Soavi’s “Dellamorte Dellamore” used actual castration.) Now that were out of castration anxiety and into simple modern diagnosis, I can’t see where this film can go.

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