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By Merle Bertrand | January 24, 2003

Say something often enough, and it supposedly comes true. That seems to be the basic strategy Merriman Jessup (Michael Harris) has adopted to get through life. Ask him, and the scruffy, ill-kempt hermit would argue vociferously that he was perfectly content to be holed up all alone in his cluttered basement apartment hovel, pounding out computer manuals to earn a living and avoiding human contact whenever possible. Think the Unabomber, with a laptop.
Jessup hasn’t even left his apartment building in years. And although he counts as acquaintances his flirtatious Russian prostitute neighbors Nasty (Oksana Lada) and Risa (Natalia Novikova), along with his helpful doorman Johnny (John Lazillotto), Jessup’s one and only true friend is Camille (Pamela Gordon), a bed-ridden and dying cancer patient.
Such is Jessup’s gloomy and cloistered world. Until, that is, the arrival of the flashy and hedonistic power couple Slim (Tatum O’Neil) and Joe (William Forsythe). Although Jessup spurns their attempts to engage him socially, he finds himself the reluctant target of Slim’s attention when Joe, an actor who encourages Slim to seduce Jessup, gets hired for a two-month overseas film shoot.
Eventually Jessup succumbs to Slim’s unrelenting attention. As a result and definitely in spite of himself, he begins to come back to life, rejoins society and, of course, falls hopelessly in love with Slim.
And then Joe comes home, which leaves Slim to choose between the two men in her life. As for Jessup, he faces the even more difficult choice between staying alive or returning to the beckoning zombie-like purgatory from which Slim so recently helped him escape.
From this most bizarre of premises, director Scott Saunders has managed to craft a film that’s smart, irreverent and sexy fun. It’s as genuinely enjoyable to watch Jessup’s gruff and cynical persona, as it is to observe him blossoming from his self-imposed prison cell. Similarly, it’s intriguing to watch O’Neal’s surprisingly sultry Slim use herself as the racetrack rabbit, only to find herself unexpectedly caught by Jessup’s Greyhound and wrapped up in an emotional tangle of her own design.
The gleefully boisterous Forsythe constantly threatens to steal the show, however. An irrepressible, barrel-chested, aging surfer dude, his Joe infuses the film with most of its laughs…as well as its few hints of darkness around the edges.
A solid and offbeat comedy for the most part, “The Technical Writer” unfortunately fizzles at the end. Only after fashioning a conclusion to Jessup, Slim and Joe’s conundrum that’s a little too pat and too convenient, does the film choose to wrap up the subplot between Jessup and Camille. It does so with a heavy-handed, if beautifully photographed, metaphorical sunset dip in the ocean; a symbol, one supposes, of both Jessup’s and Camille’s escape from their respective prisons. It’s a nice moment, to be sure, but it’s out of place and seems like an afterthought to the film’s main storyline.
This is still a decent film, however. Like an instruction booklet that’s actually well written and interesting, “The Technical Writer” is, for the most part, a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

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