Many a winning comedy has been fueled by grown characters who’ve failed to put their high school years behind them. Sadly, The Marc Pease Experience is not one of them. Pitting two variations on the arrested adolescent against one another -- the twentysomething dreamer who believes he is destined to be a star, and the smug, self-absorbed drama teacher who still hits on his students and lives for the annual school musical -- this new Jason Schwartzman and Ben Stiller vehicle is so bereft of anything close to humor that one wonders if it was even meant to be a comedy in the first place.
Schwartzman plays the title character, who lives with the shame of high school failure: Cast as the Tin Man in a production of The Wiz, he panicked before his big song and bolted from the stage, leaving Stiller's egomaniac director Jon Gribble with egg on his face. Six years later, Pease is still hoping to get his a capella ensemble Meridian 8 into the studio, convinced that a well-produced demo will be their ticket to surefire stardom. All they need is some money -- and Gribble's long ago promised technical assistance -- to make it big. Article continues below
Standing between both men is high school senior Meg Brickman (Anna Kendrick). She's Pease's girlfriend. She also has sex with Gribble as part of some long standing self-esteem issues. When he finds a buyer for his grandmother's condo, Pease believes his ship has finally come in. But when he learns of Meg's infidelity, and his mentor's lies, the world comes crashing down around him.
It’s amazing how terrible Schwartzman and Stiller are here, especially when you consider that, in the last two months, each has done far superior work (the former in Funny People, the latter in the otherwise unnecessary Night at the Museum sequel). But for some reason – whether it’s a lack of big screen experience or a tin ear for satire -- writer/director Todd Louiso lets both of his buddies down. If the rumored semi-autobiographical nature of this material is indeed true, this otherwise capable actor (Jerry Maguire, High Fidelity) needs therapy, not a distribution deal.
They say that studio support is indicative of a film's commercial potential. So what does it say about this drab little effort that Paramount Vantage is dumping it in about 10 small-market theaters before giving it over to DVD? Clearly, they believe that no amount of star power or indie cred can save this disaster. They're right. This is one of the worst movies of 2009, a dreary excuse for cleverness that wastes the talents of everyone involved.
It's not just that we don't connect or care about Pease's plight or his infantile fascination with Gibbons. We also find nothing about the teacher's mock theater expert pose charming. Both men are clearly lying to themselves, and the movie takes more than 80 minutes to expose their individual eccentricities. You can actually see Schwartzman and Stiller flailing about, improvising like madmen in the hopes that something hilarious will erupt. It doesn’t. All we get are half-baked ideas and subpar sketch comedy clichés.
If the moral of The Marc Pease Experience is that sometimes you have to grow up to discover what's best about yourself, then Louiso and his brethren in burlesque need to heed said advice. Perhaps a more mature approach would have breathed some much-needed life into this otherwise inert effort. Then again, maybe not.