Tunnel Vision

Anyone who has seen Josh Kornbluth perform his engaging theatrical monologues realizes he's a smart, savvy and occasionally biting chronicler of life among the nebbishy. He combines the Gen-X irony and angst of Douglas Coupland with more than a touch of the neurotic mania of Woody Allen.

Unfortunately, too little of Kornbluth's quirky intelligence emerges in his feature-film debut, Haiku Tunnel, which is loosely based on the play of the same name he performed locally two years ago. (Kornbluth more recently presented his one-man show, The Mathematics of Change, in Irvine.)

A comedy that keenly wants to satirize the soul-deadening life of the temporary office worker and, by extension, to show how spinning one's wheels in the workplace is the symptom of a more lethal inability to connect, Haiku Tunnel fails to effectively work on either level. It's undercooked, awkward and, most damnable, just not that funny.

There are some ingenious moments, just not enough of them. It's almost as if Kornbluth and brother Jacob (who co-directs) can't make up their minds: Do we make an eccentric, off-the-wall film or a pedestrian movie about a nerdy neurotic's inability to fit in? It's too sitcom and not enough Kornbluth to truly fly.

Josh Kornbluth stars as himself, a depressed aspiring novelist who has one love in his life: his ratty bed in his cluttered basement apartment. Josh has just broken up with his Type-A girlfriend, has hit a major writer's block, and makes ends meet—barely—by working intermittently as a temporary legal secretary in posh law offices in downtown San Francisco.

Life is grand while Kornbluth is a temp: he reports to work on time, gets his work done, and plays well with others. But the threat that he may be hired on permanently drives him into a neurotic spiral.

The threat becomes reality when he reports to work at S&M, the law offices of Schuyler and Mitchell, a huge law firm in the heart of the city. For some reason, the staff takes to Josh, and he's hired—at which point everything goes terribly awry.

It's not a bad concept. Had it been adequately explored and executed, Kornbluth's take on commitment—some of us only excel at jobs, relationships and life when we know it's fated to end sooner rather than later—could have made for a fun, provocative ride. But the Kornbluth brothers seem unsure of themselves, and the movie takes on a schizoid quality, groping toward sitcom familiarity and satirical skewering but achieving neither.

It doesn't help that Kornbluth is the least interesting performer onscreen. (The supporting cast is, to a person, excellent). He walks as if he's afflicted by terminal dingleberries, relying far too much on quivering chin and wet lips to convey his endemic nervousness. He doesn't look as if he's playing uncomfortable so much as living it.

The most frustrating part of Haiku Tunnelis that the handful of moments that do work—such as a hilarious dinner scene in which Kornbluth starts believing his own lie that he is a high-powered tax attorney—amply display his ingenuity and quirky sense of humor. These hint at a really good movie buried amid the TV antics. Had Kornbluth trusted his own eccentric muse more, perhaps Haiku Tunnelwouldn't be such a disappointment. For their first feature film, though, the Kornbluth brothers are less Coen Brothers than Ritz Brothers.

Haiku Tunnel was directed by Josh and Jacob Kornbluth; produced by the Kornbluth brothers, Brian Benson and Nancy Carlin; written by John Bellucci and the Kornbluth brothers; and stars Josh Kornbluth, Warren Keith, Helen Shumaker and Amy Resnick. Now playing at Edwards University, Irvine.

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