“Buba” is a spinoff movie from a comic German TV series titled “How to Sell Drugs Online Fast,” which I’ve not seen.
So when I say I kind of got into the film’s dark, masochistic comic vibe but found it ungainly and lumbering, take that into account. The episodes of the show this came from were 30 minute quick hits, and that’s a hard format to translate into a 90 minute film, so if you loved the show, you may have a different take.
Still, as anybody not German will tell you, German “comedies” are a rare and bewildering thing, what you get from a culture that set out to wipe out God’s Chosen Funny People from their populace, and almost succeeded.
“Buba” is about a “dealer” who once sold to those kids learning “How to Sell Drugs” and faced an uncertain future thanks to a teen’s enterprising 3D printed gun.
It turns out Buba, played by Germany’s doppelganger for David Arquette (German TV star Bjarne Mädel), right down to the pot belly — has had a rough life.
Its high point came, a flashback tells us, when he was a kid and won a break dancing contest, beating out a youngster living in Germany at the time, a fellow you might have heard of — Leonardo DiCaprio.
But to win that night, young Jakob Otto had to miss some family outing. That evening ended with a car crash, two dead parents and a comatose sibling who woke up with a raft of medical conditions dogging every day of his life. Guilt about Dante (Georg Friedrich) and his fate has hung over “Buba” ever since.
Buba’s atonement for his “crime” is a lifelong aversion to happiness and pleasure, and a life list that he keeps — with Dante’s enthusiastic support — of “negatives,” aka “unpleasant experiences,” a “negatives list.”
Buba can’t feel good about anything without hoping and engineering something awful that follows it. And Dante has lived his life abusing that atonement.
“I can’t afford to have good feelings,” Buba explains (in German, or dubbed into English).
A stunt man job with a local Wild West (German) town means Buba can dodge safety protocols and burn or otherwise injure himself in the shows. Dante still collects their checks. Fake hit-but-a-car accidents? Dante runs that scam, too.
And when they’re warned away from their assorted hustles by The Albanian Mafia, Dante is the one who figures Buba’s masochism can serve them in good stead as they weasel their way into organized crime.
But as they do, and punching-bag Buba has to master being an enforcer in the protection racket while Dante curries favor with the elderly (female) gang boss, Buba meets The First Girl who Ever Kissed Him, a fellow contestant from that long-ago breakdance throw-down. And while the fact that she’s a tattoo artist plays into his whole self-abuse/injury/pain lifestyle, Jule (Anita Vulesica) just might be the sort of the pleasure this 40something lump has denied himself his entire life.
Bad movies are often propped up by incessant, over-explaining, “here’s where the ironic deadpan jokes are” voice-over narration, and director Arne Feldhusen lets this script trap him in exactly that fashion.
“Chapters” break down Buba’s journey through life, and as much as we need to hear about “The day my life changed,” the damned narration spoils it.
There’s color in the Albanian mob material, a brief explainer why this tiny country is the font of much European crime, inspiring an infamous “Top Gear” episode and the entire “Taken” movie series.
When the crone who runs that mob imparts a proverb — “A chicken can only dream of the things the fox has to do.” — we hear a bit of what “Buba” needs more of.
That said, the “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” pratfalls are fun and the Big Finish is big enough.
Those boons are what it takes for “Buba” to overcome its own “negatives list,” and they’re only good enough to lift this misfiring comedy into “mixed bag” movie territory.
Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, drug content, profanity
Cast: Bjarne Mädel, Georg Friedrich, Anita Vulesica, Soma Pysall and Jasmin Shakeri
Credits: Directed by Arne Feldhusen, scripted by Sebastian Colley and Isaiah Michalski. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:35