(Photo credit: Noah Rosenthal)
Kabluey: A likable but strained odd-duck comedy from Texas
Review by Richard von Busack
JOINING THE ROSTER of oddly named comedies (Zotz!, The Twonky and Phffft), the made-in-Texas indie Kabluey seems inspired by the early Coen brothers. Director, writer and star Scott Prendergast plays a Steve Buscemish no-hoper named Salman, who is recruited to be a live-in nanny for his two out-of-control nephews. The brats’ mother, Leslie (Lisa Kudrow, unusually good), is about to lose her mind from the pressure of her husband’s extended deployment in Iraq. She already has a thousand-yard stare and answers questions in the clipped monotone of a shock victim. Calling up the mostly useless Salmon is her last choice of options.
He is a failure as a baby sitter, and Leslie fires him promptly. Forced to get a job, Salman takes the only position he can find: he must wear the terry-cloth mascot suit for a moribund website called BluNexion. The company wants to drum up some tenants for its vacant light-industrial park building. Putting on the padded blue outfit of “Kabluey” (a beach-ball-headed, azure and featureless creature), Salman must stand on the side of a remote rural road and hand out advertising flyers to the one or two cars that pass an hour. “Make yourself known,” says his boss, played by the hulking Conchata Ferrell. Famous as the tough, homely maid from Two and a Half Men, Ferrell is as good a comic seether as Jonathan Winters.
Making himself known in his isolation, Salman draws regulars: a batty bag lady (Teri Garr) in a beat-up sedan who shrieks every time she sees this blue hallucination by the roadside. And a mom—deluded as anyone else in this film—decides that the featureless pantomime person would make a good children’s entertainer. Through this new gig and other bits of evidence, Salman learns that Leslie is having an affair with her boss.
Pendergast mulls over the weirdly American love of mascots, puzzling about the advertising craft that paints smiling faces on cartoon ice cream cones or water towers. The film is not as fluffy as it all looks. Like his off-screen brother in the Army, Salman is stuck in uniform in the middle of nowhere with no sign of relief. Kabluey has a meaty subject—those sign-shaking, funny-animal suited road-side jobs that seem like something engineered as punishment. The suburban landscapes are right; we really feel like we’re in Negativeland. Pendergast is probably a Tim Burton fan since he acquired a famous piece of Danny Elfman music from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, and the suburban houses are shot to look as weirdly machine-made as the houses in Edward Scissorhands.
When the episodes don’t pay off, such as the bit with the always-cherished Garr, it’s because of Pendergast’s lack of rhythm. He lets us know this is comedy instead of tragedy through the volume of the dialogue and the oversized performances, but there isn’t a joke in Kabluey that wouldn’t hit harder with sharper editing and the right comic angles.
KABLUEY (PG-13; 86 min.), directed and written by Scott Prendergast, photographed by Michael Lohmann and starring Prendergast and Lisa Kudrow, plays at selected theaters.