Paul Fahrenkopf is a character actor/bit player who has kicked around in movies, TV and theater forever.
Or since the ’70s, when his first credit, as a “spectator,” was earned in the Super Bowl terrorism thriller “Black Sunday.” Read his IMDb credits and you’ll see a lot of roles that weren’t speaking parts.
But he makes the most of a starring role in “Nothing to Do,” playing a gruff 60ish DJ who has to take time off to care for his dying father.
It’s a sweet, gently-funny comedy with a hint of romance, and death as its backdrop, and Fahrenkopf, sort of a mustashioed version of British car show star Jeremy Clarkson, shines in pretty much every scene.
Kenny Shapiro had to dash down from Philly to stay with Irv (Philip Lawton). A grizzled classic rock radio vet, he is missing his last big chance at “making a mark” — a promotion to “morning drive” — to do the right thing.
But he’s OK with being there, repeating a favorite childhood phrase when asked about taking time off from “life” to do this. “It’s all good, Dad. I got nothing to do.”
Dad has been putting off late-life decisions, so Kenny’s in for a steep learning curve. “Power of Attorney?” “Hospice?”
The doctor may be “freaking” him out, but that’s nothing to what his sister Rachel (Connie Bowman, wound-tight and funny) puts him through. She’s frantic that “We are having the RIGHT test done,” meaning she wants Dad back in the hospital.
Kenny heard the doctor say it was “Let nature take its course,” time. Rachel isn’t hearing it. It’s only when she says “My mother just died last year. I can’t go through this again” that we get it.
As the siblings engage in a tug of war punctuated by their childhood put-downs for each other — “Idiot” — Kenny resolves to follow “Dad’s wishes,” and avail himself of the old man’s supply of opioids.
“You want some morphine? They really loaded us up, here…Wanna get high?”
Meanwhile, Kenny’s noticing the extra attentions of the age-appropriate neighbor-lady Patti (Patricia Talmadge), who has a touch of hippy Earth Mother about her. Soup, “hearty” organic veggie soup with edamame, that’ll fix what ails Irv.
“I didn’t know this was HOSPICE. I don’t think my soup’s gonna help.”
Writer-director Mike Kravinsky, using many of the same cast members from his 2013 comedy “The Nextnik,” finds touching moments here and there, mixed in with a few laughs. Mostly, he scripts and directs his familiar cast in ways that play to their strengths.
Fahrenkopf’s booming, chain-smoker’s baritone is perfect for an on-the-edge-of-over-the-hill DJ, and as he gets to know Patti, he shares radio station promo patter from the many cities he’s plied his trade — Miami, Charlotte, up and down the dial.
Bowman hits just the right brittle notes as a sister who always considered her brother too irresponsible to handle any of this, especially Power of Attorney over their father.
And that’s without seeing Kenny crush up Dad’s opioids and snort them.
It’s not a dazzler, not even a knee-slapper. But “Nothing to Do” sets its goals and meets them, and reminds us and every indie filmmaker out there that America is overrun with skilled, talented actors desperate for work.
Not all of them can be movie stars, but many of them are wholly capable of making characters come to life and your indie screenplay become a reality.
MPAA Rating: PG-13, profanity, lots of smoking
Cast: Paul Fahrenkopf, Philip Lawton, Connie Bowman, Patricia Talmadge
Credits: Written and directed by Mike Kravinsky. A Nextnik release.
Running time: 1:20