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Capsule movie reviews

'Peep World' and 'White Irish Drinkers'

March 25, 2011
  • Sarah Silverman in "Peep World."
Sarah Silverman in "Peep World." (Alexandra Weiss, IFC Films…)

By turns flat and strained, "Peep World" is a collection of personality disorders in search of a story. On the evidence of the finished product, it's hard to judge what drew the strong cast — Michael C. Hall, Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman and Judy Greer among them. Perhaps it was the opportunity to riff off one another, although under the direction of Barry W. Blaustein ("The Ringer"), there's barely a suggestion of comic energy, and Lewis Black's voice-over narration does nothing to up the ante.

The hackneyed dysfunctional-family script, credited to Peter Himmelstein, spins a series of unfunny gags and on-the-nose dialogue around four adult siblings, each dreading the looming dinner for their father's birthday — an event that, inexplicably, their remarried mother (Lesley Ann Warren) also attends.

Heightening the tension around this year's gathering is the mega-success of youngest son Nathan (Ben Schwartz), who's on a book tour for his bestselling novel. Sister Cheri (Silverman), a perpetually incensed artiste manqué, is suing over the thinly veiled family exposé; her struggling older brothers (Hall, Wilson) strike quieter notes of protest.

Whatever affection the director feels for these ranters and pouters is lost in a shrill stew of resentment, with time out for one character's misadventure with an erectile dysfunction drug — which is nearly as excruciating to watch as it is for him to experience. With Ron Rifkin's paterfamilias a venomous gargoyle, Greer and Taraji P. Henson provide much-needed glimmers of warmth as the two eldest siblings' significant others.

Sheri Linden

"Peep World." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, and Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

"White Irish Drinkers" might be writer-director John Gray's profane, boisterous, blood-spattered love letter to growing up in '70s Brooklyn, but its truer and more regrettable connection is to the rampant Scorsese mimicry that characterized early-'90s indie calling cards.

You know the kind: movies where young guys with glaringly obvious life choices — here, it's whether kind-eyed, wisecracking, big-dreaming Brian (Nick Thurston), who paints secretly in the basement, should escape the influence of his boozy, violent father (Stephen Lang) and abusive, criminal older brother (Geoffrey Wigdor) — instead get stuck in dumb schemes that strain sympathies, not to mention one's tolerance for overstuffed Noo Yawk accents coming at you like aural 3-D.

Gray has a long television background, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It might explain the hopelessly regimented emotional beats and by-the-numbers storytelling; it also colors his valiant attempts to make dialogue zing, and give the film's women — Brian's beleaguered mom (Karen Allen) and firecracker hook-up (Leslie Murphy) — more offbeat shadings.

Still, the clichés are what make "White Irish Drinkers" a drearily predictable bout, so much so that the decent last-round plot twist that momentarily dazes is immediately undercut by the sappy, life-changing-fuh-EV-uh jab telegraphed from the beginning.

Robert Abele

"White Irish Drinkers." MPAA rating: R for pervasive language, some sexuality and violence. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. At the ArcLight Hollywood; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino; and Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.

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