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By KJ Doughton | January 15, 2005

“Off the Wall” takes place entirely in a men’s bathroom. In fact, it’s a particularly rank pit stop, attached to a noisy rock club. Frequenters of music taverns know this turgid territory, where janitors fear to tread and drunken punters leave puddles of piss and puke on the floor. It’s an unlikely setting for romance, but Evan Jacobs stages a lavatory love story right there, among the urinals. Immediately, we know this ain’t “My Fair Lady.”

Jason (Michael Petted) is a handsome club-hopper getting sloshed on Heineken, after seeing his girlfriend cavorting with another man. He stumbles into the men’s room, lurches towards a toilet stall, and loses his lunch. Collapsing onto the ground, he huddles next to the less-than-lovely porcelain bowl and takes another swig of beer. Meanwhile, outside his shithouse suite, a tense argument breaks out between glammed-up rocker-girl Morgan (Emmy Smith) and a macho boyfriend who concludes the outbreak with a spiteful slap across her face. The violent louse walks out, leaving Morgan to assess her split lip in the mirror, then do a little chunk blowing herself.

This leads Morgan to the same toilet stall inhabited by the heartbroken, hammered Jason, who invites her to sit down and stay awhile. The stall becomes a sort of communal commode, as these two jilted souls comment on bathroom graffiti, smoke cigarettes, and make small talk. “Off the Wall” ends on a hopeful, surprising note that lifts Jacobs’ story to a more ambitious level.

It’s unexpected to find Jacobs helming such an intimate, personal tale. A visual effects specialist whose eye-popping, larger-than-life images compliment “The Mummy,” “Armageddon,” and most recently, the quantum physics art-house hit “What the What the #$*! Do We Know,” Jacobs abandons macro for micro this time around. He nails the lonely ambiance of this setting – club music permeates the bathroom walls, patrons borrow a neighboring stall for some quick carnal thrills, and condom dispensers and empty towel machines jut from garishly colored walls.

Petted, a sometimes-drummer on the LA club music scene (he provided backbeat duties with band Naked Star, who play the film’s moody soundtrack), is comfortable with this terrain. Resigned and comfortable in his role as a defeated lover down on his luck, the impressive lead man is a real find. Ditto for Smith (also the film’s co-producer), who convincingly conveys contempt, cynicism, empathy, and forgiveness all within the short film’s compact running time.

Jacobs, who shot this restroom romance in 48 hours, was wise to take time off from his big-bang duties and cook up a more delicate movie morsel. Judging from “Off the Wall,” he’s as good with complex characterizations as he is with explosions, monsters, and mega-buck mayhem.

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