If “satire,” as playwright George S. Kaufman famously opined, “is what closes Saturday night,” where does “surrealism” sit on your average film consumer’s palate?
Writer-director J. Rick Castaneda’s oddball career of web series (“Coma, Period,” which helped launch Rob Delaney) and TV shows like “The Sushi Dragon Show starring TheSushiDragon” and “The Sushi Dragon After Party Hosted by TheSushiDragon” that presumably someone out there is watching doesn’t really answer that question with his first feature film, “All Sorts.”
“Sorts” is surreal, bizarre, satiric and plucky — a crowd-funded indie farce that became a make work project for greater Yakima, Washington, apparently. It’s willfully weird, in your face and slapdash, flinging a lot of curiosities and would-be jokes, punch-lines and eccentric characters at the screen in pursuit of laughs. And it doesn’t quite coalesce into anything that would make it past opening night in terms of audience appeal, or anything a viewer can really sink one’s teeth into.
Imagine “The Office” remade as a no-budget feature by Terry Gilliam during his “Brazil” phase. There’s some seriously silly and offbeat world-building going on, here. But to what end?
Diego (Eli Vargas) lives in his car, heating his coffee and making his toast with a (presumably) 12volt iron as a hotplate, even keeping a plastic bin in the backseat to use as a tub. He applies for a job through the classifieds. And as oddly as the interview goes with the dizzy Mr. Vasquez (Luis Daveze), when he learns that Diego can type “55 words a MINUTE” that closes the deal.
Diego has the job, his own cubicle and his own uninspiring “inspirational” thought-a-day calendar.
“Nov. 4…Wednesday is for Losers.”
But there’s no computer at his desk. As the company he’s joined is called “Data Mart,” that’s going to be a problem. He gets assignments he can’t finish, not that anyone other than Vasquez seems to care. And the person he’s replacing has “disappeared.” People disappear from the windowless cubicle forest of Data Mart, devoured by filing cabinets, something we see and yet never see explained.
Diego’s co-workers respond to him with dismissal, disdain and — for the most part — silence. That might be due to the fact that almost everybody is an incorrigible goof-off, which could be because a lot of them don’t seem to know what the hell it is they’re supposed to be doing or what’s really going on.
Data Mart works with outdated computers and mountains of paper files. Diego’s “supervisor” snaps “I’m not your friend, I’m not your supervisor.” Inanimate objects like paper clips crawl off as if they have a mind of their own.
And Mr. Vasquez is so clueless that he has CCTV installed to spy on his lazy workforce, and when he spies video of himself staring at the screen, looking for employees who aren’t working, he fires himself and the tech guy who is looking at the monitor with him, checking to see if the cameras are working.
That sort of deadpan take on office life is taken to the next level when Diego is tipped that the way to get a computer is to leave 20 Paydays inside a ventilation vent. He comes to learn that a fellow who claimed to have been “transferred” is living in the bowels of the building, doing other people’s work, stealing office supplies and computers and ransoming them for Payday candy bars out of the vending machine.
And then there’s the manic filing cabinet pixie, June Yuh (Greena Park). She keeps an octopus cartoon in her cubicle as inspiration and nickname. June’s a filing fool. When Diego sees a flier for an underground filing competition, he simply has to drag June into the “Office Space” underworld to do battle in WWE-styled file-offs.
“He’s STYLIN’, profilin’ and CATEGORIZING” our ring announcer/color commentator for the “Filing League” bellows as a cacophony of collating goes on in bouts that cubicle drones from all over cheer on and wager over.
June could dominate this world, but she needs Diego as her manager, and maybe more than just her “manager.”
The world-building here is absurdist in the extreme, with all sorts of promising story threads tossed out there and either left under-developed or abandoned altogether.
Some of the characters register, but none of them really connect.
As cute as the office of oddballs might be, as semi-inventive as their many strategies for fooling the boss into thinking they’re working (one guy keeps a cardboard cut-out of himself ready for when he takes off for endless breaks), with an elaborate string-with-jingle-bells system for signaling each other that Vasquez is making his “How hard are they working?” rounds, the cute and quirky “All Sorts” runs up against a wall it can’t punch through.
Surreal it most certainly is. It’s just not all that funny. The reaction writer-director Castaneda reaches for and achieves, time and again, is “Well, that’s cute/interesting/weird/downright daft.” But all this eccentricity, all this world-building and all these sight gags never manages more than a chuckle.
Rating: unrated, a little slapstick, no profanity
Cast: Eli Vargas, Greena Park, Luis Daveze and Mike Markoff
Credits: Scripted and directed by J. Rick Castaneda. A Vibrant Penguin release.
Running time: 1:34