Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Chuck & Buck (2000)
Studio Line: Artisan Entertainment - When does a close friend become too close?

From Mike White, the writer of Dead Man On Campus and producer of TV's "Freaks and Geeks," comes a tale of comically twisted obsession. Chuck and Buck are childhood best friends whose lives have taken very different paths. While Chuck moved away and now has a real life, Buck stayed behind and developed a dangerous fixation -- on Chuck's life. The result is a wickedly hilarious story of two guys about to learn that growing upÖis the strangest trip of all.

Stars Lupe Ontiveros (As Good As It Gets, Picking Up The Pieces, Selena) and marks the acting debuts of Chris Weitz (writer of Nutty Professor II and Antz, producer of American Pie) and Mike White.

Director: Miguel Arteta
Cast: Mike White, Chris Weitz, Lupe Ontiveros, Beth Colt, Paul Weitz
DVD: Widescreen 1.77:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Surround; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 32 chapters; rated R; 97 min.; $24.98; street date 12/19/00.
Supplements: Commentary with Director Miguel Arteta and Writer/Actor Mike White; Deleted Scenes with Director and Writer Commentary; An Insider's View with Director's Assistant Ruben Fleischer and Key Grip Doug Kieffer; The Games We Used To Play; Theatrical Trailer; Cast & Crew Information; Production Notes.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: D/B/B-

All of us have friends from childhood who move away and depart our lives forever. Iím probably unusual in that Iíve known my best friend Kevin since we were eight, but Iíve still seen lots of folks come and go over the years.

From time to time, Iíve been intrigued by the notion of looking up some of these people. After all, itís kind of weird to think you were once so close with someone but have no idea whatever happened to them. However, Iíve never followed through on this temptation because it just doesnít seem all that important.

Some people clearly feel differently, and such a person constitutes one of the leads in Chuck and Buck. Half psychodrama, half comedy, all inane and pointless, C&B starts with the death of Buckís (played by writer Mike White) mother, with whom the late-twenty-something lived. Buck invites Chuck (Chris Weitz), a childhood best friend, to the funeral.

There we learn of Buckís continued deep attachment to Chuck. Other than a nonsensical fondness for rum and Cokes, Buck hasnít changed much since he and Chuck were 11, and he seems extremely eager to revive the old ways. Way too eager, especially since Buck appears to have no concept of how the real world works. As such, he does a lot of inappropriate things in his desire to be with Chuck, and although sheís one of the few people who treats him well, Buck demonizes Chuckís fiancee Carlyn (Beth Colt).

After many rebuffs from Chuck, Buck writes and produces a play clearly based on their relationship. This leads to a friendship between Buck and actor Sam (Paul Weitz), although Buck nearly botches that deal as well. Ultimately everyone learns something about themselves and moves on with their lives.

Frankly, Iím having trouble moving on because I really want back the 97 minutes I spent with Chuck and Buck. While the premise had promise, the execution was severely lacking. C&B was a very low-budget flick and was shot on digital video cameras. As such, thereís a crudeness to the film that actually seems to work in its favor, since it helps distract us from some of the movieís other problems.

Unfortunately, the technical challenges can only go so far, and I then have to return to the story itself. The plot is hampered by a lack of coherence and sensibility. The pacing of the piece is extremely torpid and it often feels as though the movie is going nowhere. HmmÖ perhaps thatís because it really isnít progressing.

Hereís the film in a nutshell: Buck tries to communicate with someone. Buck does something creepy. Buck gets rejected. Buck cries. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In the DVDís supplements we hear that while Chuck represents the smooth, successful public face we all want to show, Buck portrays the inept, awkward way that we actually feel. While I make no claims to be Mr. Cool, I can definitely state that Iíve never even remotely thought of myself as a moron and a geek on the scope of Buck. Hey, I may well be a loser, but even I have some self-pride and recognize that Iím not quite that idiotic.

Thatís part of the problem with the film: no oneís as pathetic as Buck. At least no one Iíve met, and I know a lot of pathetic people! Heís an unrealistic character, and Whiteís affected acting doesnít help. He adopts a whiny voice and looks vaguely nauseous most of the time; all of that is supposed to add to the role, I guess, but it just made him even more odd.

As a twist, most of the leads in C&B are played by non-actors. Bad move! Chris Weitz is even worse than White, as he provides an absurdly stilted and wooden performance. His brother Paul gets off easier; since heís supposed to play a bad actor, he can hide his own flaws. However, I saw little difference between the weak performing Sam did in the play and Paulís own work; they looked pretty similar to me. Normally when a movie features purposefully bad acting such as Samís performance in Buckís play, it stands out as comic relief. Here it blends in and seems indistinguishable from the rest of the work.

I understand Whiteís desire to make a movie about someone less than perfect, since he seems to believe that all Hollywood films feature flawless protagonists. I donít know where he gets that idea, since most leads have definite problems, but I do get his interest in showing a less-than-attractive person. However, Chuck and Buck goes too far in the other direction as it depicts a completely charmless and off-putting character. That might have been more acceptable had the film been executed with any skill, but as it stands, the result is amateurish and slow-moving. The movie had potential but the final product is a dud.

The DVD:

Chuck and Buck appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.77:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although originally filmed on a digital video camera, C&B has been transferred from the 35mm ďblow-upĒ used for theatrical presentations. This is the second instance of this that I can recall off the top of my head; the other example was another Artisan product, 1999ís Blair Witch Project.

Many objected to that treatment since a direct video transfer would have looked much cleaner and clearer. However, I felt the 35mm treatment seemed appropriate in that case. This was partially because BWP was a hybrid piece; parts of it were taken from a camcorder, but others came from 16mm film. As such, at least some of the movie had to come from a film source, and I thought that the contrast between the grainy look of the 16mm shots and the clarity of the video material would have been jarring; the total conversion to 35mm balanced out the product and made it more consistent.

The same arguments donít hold true for C&B. Frankly, I can think of no compelling reason to transfer the movie from a 35mm print instead of from the original video unless someone thought it would look better with all that grain and grit intact. However, if the picture would benefit from those flaws, it should have been shot that way from the start. All the introduction of film stock does is make the result much more difficult to watch because C&B provides a consistently ugly image.

Sharpness seemed decent at times, but it varied quite frequently. Close-ups looked acceptably clear, but most shots that moved out a little farther appeared fairly soft and muddy. Despite the generally hazy look to the movie, I still saw fairly frequent examples of jagged edges and moirť effects. These kinds of problems often mar video presentations, and the transfer to film did nothing to eliminate them.

That 35mm image did add some other problems, though, in the form of print flaws. Most significantly, C&B seemed very grainy. Almost the entire movie displayed copious amounts of grain, and some low-light scenes were tremendously bad in that regard. A little debris and some speckles also appeared, but grain caused the majority of the concerns.

Colors were bland and lifeless. Much of the movie showed a yellow tint that appeared very unnatural and unappealing. Black levels were drab and dull as well, and shadow detail could look fairly thick; low-light scenes could be fairly difficult to discern. Frankly, itís unlikely that a low-budget project like Chuck and Buck would ever have looked very good, but the decision to transfer the movie from 35mm stock seemed to doom it to an extremely weak image.

Much better was the filmís surprisingly engrossing and vibrant Dolby Surround soundtrack. This was an unassuming affair but it provided a nicely clear and involving soundfield. Audio spread quite cleanly and accurately across the front, with some well-differentiated discrete sound to broaden the image. Material blended together accurately and naturally, and sounds moved across the forward channels in an appropriate manner. The surrounds contributed very solid reinforcement of the front image; there were no particular examples of unique audio from the rear, but those channels added a nice layer of involvement.

Sound quality also seemed strong. Dialogue came across as crisp and natural, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. (Thatís a good thing since Artisan still refuse to add subtitles to most of their DVDs - boo!) Music was rich and deep and showed fine clarity; the highs were smooth and the lows seemed fairly tight. Effects played a minor role in the movie, but they sounded acceptably realistic and lacked distortion. All in all, the fine soundtrack almost made up for the weak visuals - but not quite.

In addition, we find a decent complement of supplements on Chuck and Buck. We get two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Miguel Arteta and actor/writer Mike White. The two were recorded together for this scene-specific track. As a whole, I found this piece to be fairly uninteresting. Arteta does little other than make some vague remarks about technical issues, while White perseverates on some bad reviews; he persistently quotes lines from critics who disliked the film or his performance. We learn some mildly compelling tidbits along the way, and the tone is loose and moderately engaging, but once it was done, I felt as though I hadnít picked up any notes that were memorable. As such, the experience didnít do a lot for me.

The second audio commentary comes from some unusual sources as we hear from directorís assistant Ruben Fleischer and key grip Doug Kieffer. The DVD refers to this as an ďinsiderís viewĒ, which seems odd; the director, screenwriter and lead actor arenít considered to be ďinsidersĒ? In any case, I will agree that we find a perspective that doesnít usually appear in audio commentaries.

Does that make it interesting? Unfortunately, no. I thought this track was just as dull as the first one. For the most part, Fleischer and Kieffer suffer from ďFarrelly DisorderĒ; as demonstrated by those brothers on Kingpin and other commentaries, this means the participants have the stultifying tendency to do little more than mention the names of various on-screen folks. The track isnít just a glorified credit roll, and we do hear some fun facts about the production, such as Lupe Ontiverosí trouble remembering her lines. However, thereís too little compelling information and too much drudgery to make the commentary worthwhile for anyone who doesnít just love Chuck and Buck.

In another section we find six Deleted Scenes. These run between 21 seconds and three minutes, 43 seconds for a total of almost 10 minutes worth of footage. Two of these segments are actually extended versions of included pieces, while the other four are new. None of them add anything to the experience; they just reinforce the attitudes we already possess about the characters.

The optional audio commentary from Arteta and White sheds no revealing light either. Their remarks are sparse and uninformative for the most part. A couple of times we hear why the shots were excised, but not all of the clips feature this most basic detail, and their other statements are pretty uninteresting. They donít even bother to speak at all during the sixth scene!

One unusual text piece appears on the disc. Called Games We Used to Play, this area details the rules for seven popular kids activities: Spin the Bottle, Jacks, Tetherball, Dodge Ball, Four Square, Truth or Dare, and Pickup Sticks. Itís quite detailed and fun.

A few other DVD basics round out the package. We find the filmís theatrical trailer plus some text features. Cast and Crew provides pretty good biographies for nine actors and 14 crew members, while the Production Notes offer some decent details of the filmís creation. The latter differ from the information found within the DVDís booklet; those notes talk about the reasons why the movie was shot on Digital Video instead of film.

Sometimes I think that independent films attempt to be different just for the sake of quirkiness, and Chuck and Buck does nothing to disavow me of that notion. Self-consciously odd and poorly-executed, the movie starts with an interesting concept but takes it nowhere, and goes there slowly; the filmís 97 minutes will seem much longer than that. The DVD provides a very weak picture but has surprisingly good sound and some moderately interesting extras. Nonetheless, the movieís inherent dopiness makes it a flick that I canít recommend. Chuck and Buck is one to stop and drop.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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