Movie Review: Reenactments won’t help you win “The Argument”

“The Argument” is an indie comedy built on the frame that supported that favorite of community theaters, far and wide — “Noises Off.”

Show us a frazzled, rattled and unsatisfactory story — one that leads to an “argument,” in this case. Then show us the folks in that argument walking through the scenario again, with equally unsatisfying results.

All of it heads towards a finale that is a manic, thrown-together rough facsimile of what we’ve seen happen, aka what we know is SUPPOSED to happen, and let us laugh at the chaos that ensues.

Yes, it’s a very writerly conceit. But throw some funny people at it and let’s see if it works.

Veteran funnyman Dan Fogler (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Take Me Home Tonight”) plays Jack, a struggling screenwriter made awfully insecure by his actress girlfriend of three years, who seems a little TOO into her co-star in this Mozart play they’re doing.

Emma Bell (“Deviant Love,” TV’s “Relationship Status”) is Lisa, all worked-up over what she hopes is her big-break, playing ditzy wife Constanza to co-star Paul’s randy Wolfgang Amadeus.

Jack hopes to be supportive, get past the argument they had in bed before opening night with a little get-together with his literary agent Brett (Danny Pudi of “Community”) and Brett’s no-nonsense entertainment lawyer lady friend, Sarah, played by Maggie Q of the “Divergent” films, and “Balls of Fury,” with Dan Fogler.

But their tetchy evening — Sarah’s first words are “We should probably be heading out…” — takes a more openly hostile turn when Jack realizes that Lisa’s invited her flirty co-star Paul — Tyler James Williams (“Everybody Hates Chris”) — and Paul’s ditzy British accented girlfriend, Trina (Cleopatra Coleman of TV’s “Last Man on Earth”).

The giddy actors romp around, doing rambunctious scenes (spanking) from their “Amadeus” knock-off. Jack grits his teeth between trips to the kitchen. Sarah? She fumes.

“You have a LOVELY home” Trina says to her, complimenting the wrong woman for Jack and Lisa’s shabby Mission-style bungalow.

“I do NOT live here,” is about the nicest thing Sarah will say all night.

During the course of the evening, the actors flirt, the agent keeps telling his “single screen credit” client he’s a “genius,” and Jack tries to shrug off the fact that Trina has seen that one credit, “The Dead Doth Trod the Hills at Night.”

“I never LAUGHED so hard in a movie!”

No. It wasn’t a comedy.

All this is headed towards a resumption of Lisa and Jack’s morning hostilities. And nothing good can come of that. But as the evening implodes and the guests recede and Jack and Lisa blame each other, Jack frantically comes up with a “do over.” Invite everybody back, walk through EXACTLY the same evening, and pinpoint the spot where he or she can make the point that the OTHER caused the fight.

It’s a stunningly silly conceit. Not one person who lived through that evening-on-eggshells would want to return, but here they all are again. And just in case they miss a gesture, line or moment, seething Sarah is there to correct them.

“Unfortunately, I have a photographic memory.”

There aren’t a lot of laughs in the first two acts of this three act comedy. Not enough funny lines, and Maggie Q’s dead-eyed annoyance can only carry us so far. We share Sarah’s contempt for one and all.

But the third act? That’s when screenwriter Jack decides the only way to REALLY “fix” this party and fix blame is to bring in ACTORS to play the principals. And damned if the casting session — with Karan Brar, Marielle Scott, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Mark Ryder struggling to get the “parts,” and then get the point of this “play,” with the characters they’re playing sitting slack-jawed or loudly protesting in their presence — isn’t hilarious.

It’s loud, fast, in-your-face, broad and low. Packing that living room with actors, having Trina cope by drinking (she really shouldn’t), with Brett and Sarah having it out and Jack raging at every recreation that doesn’t fit his script or make his point and “actors” acting like, well, actors makes “The Argument” funny.

If only the set-up was half as amusing as the payoff.

MPAA Rating: unrated, drinking and profanity

Cast: Dan Fogler, Emma Bell, Maggie Q, Cleopatra Coleman, Danny Pudi, Tyler James Williams, Marielle Scott, Karan Brar, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Mark Ryder.

Credits: Directed by Robert Schwartzman, script by Zac Stanford. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:24

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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