BUSTERS MAL HEART (Sarah Adina Smith). 98 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (May 12). See listing. Rating: NN
If youve seen Rami Malek in The Pacific or Short Term 12 or even those Night At The Museum movies, you know that hes a really intriguing actor with considerable range. Its been great, over the last year or so, to see his career take off thanks to his starring role in the TV series Mr. Robot.
Sarah Adina Smith cast Malek as the lead in her sophomore feature before Mr. Robot went into production, and thanks to the vagaries of scheduling and distribution, the movie arrives after two seasons of that shows hallucinatory storytelling. And perhaps it suffers for that.
Busters Mal Heart places Malek at the centre of a complex, double-helix narrative. Hes Jonah, an overstressed husband and father who works as the night concierge at a hotel where he meets a shifty computer hacker (DJ Qualls) who claims to be the only man keeping the information superhighway safe as Y2K approaches.
But thats not the only narrative strand. Malek also turns up as a shaggy vagrant called Buster whos notorious in his small mountain town for breaking into peoples homes and living in them. Hes been at it for several years, and the police are closing in. It wont end well.
Are Buster and Jonah the same person, or is this a doppelganger situation? Whats with all the background chatter about an inversion? How does Jonahs contentious home life fit into the bigger picture?
Smith is chasing the eerie existentialism of Richard Kellys Donnie Darko and David Lynchs Lost Highway, laying out crumbs for her characters and for her viewers meant to lead us to a head-spinning conclusion. But while those films ultimately came to an emotionally satisfying crescendo, Busters Mal Heart just spins out one buzzy idea after another Digital paranoia! Cosmic course corrections! The power of love! and eventually shakes itself apart into nothingness.
Malek is always a fascinating screen presence, but he cant do much with long stretches of silent contemplation, especially when half of those find him buried under silly mountain-man makeup.
The same goes for the supporting cast, which features indie power players Kate Lyn Sheil (Kate Plays Christine), Lily Gladstone (Certain Women), Toby Huss (Halt And Catch Fire) and Lin Shaye (Insidious).
Theyre all fine actors, and its good to see them working, but the nature of the project limits them to a single note.
Busters Mal Heart isnt about its characters, but the quantum mechanics of its storytelling. And better versions of that narrative already exist.