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Longer `Cashback' pays dividends

Sean Ellis retains the charming tone of his Oscar-nominated short in this portrait of a young British artist.

July 20, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

It's easy to relate to the concept of "Cashback," a sweet, dreamlike British comedy-drama about a young art student who combats romance-induced insomnia by taking a job as a clerk in an all-night supermarket. Writer-director Sean Ellis more-or-less successfully expands his Academy Award-nominated 18-minute short to full length, showcasing his talented young cast to good effect.

Sean Biggerstaff stars as Ben Willis, an aspiring painter who breaks up with his girlfriend (Michelle Ryan) when he realizes that he can never make her happy. The breakup, however, triggers weeks of sleepless nights, prompting Ben to swap his newfound time for a paycheck, or cash back as it were.

At Sainsbury's, Ben is united with others roughly his age, including Barry (Michael Dixon), a maniac for whom no stunt is too stupid; Matt (Michael Lambourne), a prematurely bald doofus; and the angelic Sharon (Emilia Fox, who resembles a young Blythe Danner). Overseeing the motley bunch is Mr. Jenkins (Stuart Goodwin), a Dickensian sort who eventually displays a madcap streak.

Biggerstaff looks something like Harry Potter minus the glasses, which is appropriate because there's a certain amount of magic realism going on here. Ben, you see, can freeze time.

While his co-workers invent ways to speed up time, Ben literally stops it and luxuriates in the beauty of the moment. Now, being a young man of a certain age much of the beauty he chooses to see is in the female form. Make that the nude female form as he imagines the more comely shoppers in various states of undress.

Other than Sharon, Ben's co-workers aren't all that interesting apart from comic relief, and their expanded presence doesn't really help the film. The sequences that focus on them feel like they're from a more conventional, less appealing movie.

We learn more about Ben and his background through flashbacks, but Ellis effectively weaves them into Ben's present-day existence and pays them off narratively later on. Ellis and Biggerstaff also make the extensive use of voice-over work better than it has any right to.

A welcome addition to the cast is Shaun Evans as Sean, Ben's wolfish friend since childhood. It's a stock character, but Evans brings a likable swagger to the role and his devil-may-care attitude complements Ben's melancholy keeping the film from becoming too self-serious. Fox is also very good in an understated performance as a beautiful girl who doesn't know it.

Ellis draws a very romantic portrait of a young artist as he ponders love, beauty and living in the moment. In expanding the story to feature length, he makes some missteps, but all in all maintains the charming tone that dominated the original version.

"Cashback." MPAA rating: R for graphic nudity, sexual content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. Exclusively at Regency Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd. at Fairfax Avenue, (323) 655-4010.

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