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By Rory L. Aronsky | August 31, 2005

Quick, think of all the clichés you’ve seen in movies from today and years ago. Now try to put them all into one motion picture. That’ll give anyone the shakes, and it happens in “Speilburgh”, the realization of that exact notion. Surely writer/director/actor Andrew W. Zehner thought it in good fun, but included in “Speilburgh” are actors who either look too pretty-boyish for the camera, such as Grant Bhyron, who looks like any number of aspiring actors in Los Angeles, and John “J.J.” Williams, whose wild-eyed look recalls any number of outlandish villains in overdone action films. But here, let’s try this. How about a game of “Spot the Cliches?”

“Speilburgh” starts with the current problem of Steve Speilburgh (Grant Bhyron), a 30-year old head usher of what appears to be a small-town theater in a strip mall. In voice over, he tells us not to assume that he’s that Spielberg, just by his last name, because he’s not. In fact, the film tries to push its theme of “assumption” so many times in our eyes and ears, that it becomes less apparent that “assumption” is the theme. This guy just got saddled with a bad day. The unnecessary voice-over narration recalls “Sunset Boulevard” and “American Beauty”, though not as tastefully. This begins the obvious fact that Zehner most likely has been watching movies for a hefty number of years and suddenly decided to create something out of everything he saw, something for himself, but not good for anyone. Then Steve’s girlfriend Kathy (Billie Joe Stewart) breaks up with him on the basis that he has no drive that he doesn’t finish what he starts. Or for that matter, no initiative. It’s Dante Hicks without a brain. Steve wants to make his own movie, but so far only has $6,000 with which to make it, in an account activated by his friend and co-worker, Matt (John “J.J.” Walker). Meanwhile, he hasn’t even written a script let alone hatched an idea. But his shift at the movie theater, run by a sleazy-minded schmuck with a bad combover named Robert Evans (an actual opinion of the legendary producer or just an obvious reference to try to look “hip”?), he has enough problems to contend with, so much so that he even starts to complain like Dante. And like that beloved character, he seems to be bringing the problems in on himself by being stressed out about them. However, Steve is as much a caricature as everyone else scampering about the lobby.

Jenny (Madeline Gainers) is the typical I’ll-say-what-I-want-and-I-don’t-care-who-it-offends co-worker, but not in that Randal mode. She’s just angry, with the job, with the people, with the bad butter that puts her in the bathroom a few times. Jay (Andrew W. Zehner) is the mentally disabled ticket-taker, and worse than Cuba Gooding, Jr. in “Radio”, far more annoying and hard to watch without desperately wanting a weapon, even though it’s just a movie on a DVD. Elsewhere, Matt actually seems like Randal through a few scenes, advising Steve to get moving, but there’s really no perception in Matt either.

As the evening progresses, it turns out that the package Evans wants Steve to pick up when he isn’t around (and conveniently, he’s not) is full of drugs, which Matt excitedly claims will give Steve much more money to make his movie. Speaking of which, I know that not every person interested in film has to be so well-versed that they must spout movie quotes, little-known historical facts, and favorite directors, films and actors, but Steve doesn’t seem like someone interested in film. He does, however, seem like one raised on Spielberg and Lucas and suddenly decided right there to try to make a movie, feeling that film is accessible enough to him to make his own, but not learning a wider range of it or even trying to. He doesn’t have the creativity for it and even the projectionist of the theater knows more about movies and how they work than he does. Later, “Speilburgh” devolves into every part of an action film passionately hated, right up to a character being revealed as a bad guy and fitting every point of one, including speaking in catchphrases. So it tries to be “Clerks” (annoying customers included), believing there are worthy characters here, but everyone involved in this production play their roles as if they’re dying to be noticed. In fact, it seems to be one of the character traits of Zehner: Overdo everything to the fullest extent. The DVD case cover proudly proclaims in a white banner diagonally slashed across the front that “Speilburgh” was banned from Sundance, “the story they don’t want you to see.” Zehner sure knows how to take rejection from a film festival. The back cover proudly touts an award received from the New York International Film and Video Festival. Looks like we’re not the only ones who got screwed. Even as thousands of filmmakers mount productions of their own, hoping to be noticed and watched by important people and audiences, “Speilburgh” is one of the lowest of low points for indie comedies. There are no laughs here; just a desire to either hurl or cry while balling up into a fetal position.

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