"Ed and His Dead Mother" (at the Sunset 5), the darkest of dark comedies, boasts a wonderfully original script by Chuck Hughes and a well-nigh perfect cast but is sadly done in by Jonathan Wacks' flat, uninspired direction.
The result is a textbook example of how getting good performances is but half the director's job, because this way off-the-wall project didn't have a prayer without direction that's distinctly personal, stylish, daring and, at the very least, rhythmic. Unfortunately, Wacks, best known for the amusing but overrated and rambling "Powwow Highway," doesn't bring any of those qualities into the picture.
The opening is promising, a framing sequence shot in black-and-white, in which a woebegone young man, Ed (Steve Buscemi) is on trial for having decapitated his mother (the ever-formidable Miriam Margolyes, employing a flawless Middle American accent).
It seems that Ed was genuinely devoted to his mother, a longtime single parent, who has died leaving him the small-town Iowa family hardware store and a nice old home, which he shares with his randy uncle (Ned Beatty), currently caught up in training his telescope on a curvaceous and uninhibited new neighbor (Sam Jenkins--that's Ms. Jenkins).