By Phil Hall | September 28, 2005

It is ironic that one of America’s most famous art museums is celebrated not for its prized collection, but because of a boxing movie. Yes, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the beloved institution which earned an immortality of sorts when Sylvester Stallone ascended its grand exterior stairs to Bill Conti’s blaring music in “Rocky.”

The museum is back on screen, this time in Jason F. Gilbert’s quirky indie comedy “The Coatroom.” Rocky is not around (the statue of the celluloid champ is actually in another part of town), but James Cotton is here. James is a stoic, shambling man in a boring relation with a boring woman. He gets a job in the museum and is stationed in the customer coatroom with Claire, who possesses the sarcastic and kinetic energy which James lacks – and which he needs to jumpstart his numb and pointless existence.

The spirit of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” hovers across much of the film’s style, particularly in the deliberate and deadpan approach to comedy and in Patrick Carrico’s appearance and performance as James (he could easily pass for Jack Gance’s nephew, at least from the eyebrows up). But unlike the Lynch classic, “The Coatroom” is never subversive or shocking. It fuels itself on snarky rudeness and toilet humor (literally). Some of it goes nowhere, but often it is very amusing in a mildly nihilistic manner (a wonderful moment has the attendee of a new employing training seminar doodling his lovely instructor as a mermaid in a pornographic cartoon).

Some delightful intellectual jokes bubble up unexpectedly, such as the increasingly creepy questioning of an art student who inquires after the title character in “Nude Descending the Staircase”; his questions are initially academic but then he starts veering off into wondering aloud if the nude in question is a hot chick. For anyone who labored through an art history class, especially if seated next to a horned-up classmate, this movie is a must-see.

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