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By Phil Hall | April 12, 2004

A message to aspiring filmmakers considering the production of a comedy film. If you want to make a truly successful comedy, you need to have three key elements in place: a premise which can support a feature-length film, characters who appeal to the audience, and actors who can carry the difficult demands of keeping the laughs flowing.
Dennis Lanson’s “Pitstop” only succeeds in securing one of these three key elements: a wonderful premise, following 24 hours in the life of a California interstate truck stop where a variety of odd characters are either chasing someone or something or are being chased for reasons beyond their control. In the hands of master filmmakers like Altman, Jarmusch or Sayles, this premise could easily serve up a wry character-driven comedy.
Unfortunately, this film is not being helmed by an Altman, Jarmusch or Sayles. Instead, Dennis Lanson badly neglects to secure the other aforementioned elements for comedy success, leaving his great idea to flap about in a shrill and pointless manner.
Rather than presents memorable characters who come and go through the central truck stop location, “Pitstop” offers flat caricatures who are stuck playing one-note stereotypes until the atonality of the screenplay becomes irritating. These are all characters you’ve seen before: the wise-cracking waitresses (who probably watched too many reruns of “Alice”), the dopey sheriff, the giggling murderer, the pretentious poet, the lazy mechanic, the bitter wronged-wife, the slutty babe who earns the wronged-wife’s wrath, and (in a possible homage to “South Park”) the wise and cool black cook. Lanson doesn’t put real people in real situations, but rather peels off Colorform figures and sticks them on an intriguing tableau where they serve no entertaining purpose.
As for the third element..forget it. The acting in “Pitstop” never rises above the level of bad dinner theater, with clumsy line deliveries by performers who often trip over basic sentences in vain attempts to locate a socko punchline. With better actors, “Pitstop” might have been able to obfuscate the inadequacies of the screenplay’s non-dimensional characters through force of acting personality (think of John Candy’s starring features, which were fairly lousy flicks that were saved from misery solely by the late comic’s genial screen presence). Sadly, the ensemble here can’t work such magic and their bad acting only sinks an already weak ship.
To its credit, though, “Pitstop” offers some unusually fine cinematography courtesy of the camera of Hisham Abed. The film looks like the proverbial million-bucks, especially the beautiful transitional shots of the California desert and sky during various parts of the day. Abed’s bravura camerawork is the most professional aspect of the film and it is hopeful that this talented artist will be tapped consistently in upcoming films of higher pedigrees.

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