'Humpday' is a sophomoric bait-and-switch

"Humpday" (R)

1 1/2 stars out of 4

It's not often that mainstream filmmakers act as trailblazers to their art-house brethren, but that is the case with "Humpday." Slacker-hip and exceedingly self-indulgent, it will find little appeal beyond people who include the phrase "cinema verite" in regular conversation.

Ignited by Judd Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," the "bromantic" comedy movement has quickly established itself as a lucrative and seemingly bottomless pit sub-genre. These movies work in large part because the filmmakers recognize that heterosexual men don't mind watching those who are sort of like them "share their feelings" on screen as long as it's interlaced with lots of obvious bathroom humor and no blatant, homoerotic undertones.

"Humpday" has its share of blue humor and sexual banter and the two leads are hetero males, but once the premise is announced, men and women - straight and gay - will head directly for the hills.

After about a decade of no contact, Ben (Mark Duplass) is visited in the dead of night by his old college chum Andrew (Joshua Leonard). Ben's a frumpy married guy and Andrew is a Jack Kerouac hopeful, complete with a funky hat, hippie beard and several spur-of-the-moment tattoos. Both of them need to ease up on the carbs and maybe hit the gym sometime soon.

The next day, Andrew invites Ben to a party rife with bohemian types and the main topic of discussion is "Humpfest," the real-life annual Seattle pornographic film festival. After way too much smoke, drink and incoherent blathering, Ben and Andrew come up with an idea for a movie: two straight men (themselves) will do, ahem, you-know-what in a movie.

Ben, Andrew and writer/director Lynn Shelton (who also appears as a bisexual party host) don't seem to be aware that this particular concept is not new to adult films and is therefore not groundbreaking or shocking.

What is mildly interesting are the two separate reactions to the situation from Ben's wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) after having it explained to her separately by Ben and Andrew. Resembling Katie Holmes' older, well-grounded sister, Delmore exhibits a multitude of heart-wrenching emotions, providing the only worthwhile portion of the film.

It's hard to figure out who exactly Shelton was trying to appeal to here. Straight and gay audiences are going to hate it for completely different sets of reasons, and those always on the lookout for groundbreaking guerilla filmmaking are also likely to feel duped and shortchanged. Shelton's cowardly abrupt, complete non-ending only pours salt into the wound and indicates an overlying tentativeness regarding her own shallow material.

This isn't cutting edge, it's a lame and sophomoric bait-and-switch and it's not even that funny or introspective. Watching two very out-of-shape guys tip-toe, walk sideways, over and around a squirm-inducing scenario while both lose or try to save face for 90 minutes isn't anyone's idea of entertainment or enlightenment, no matter how finely you cut it. (Magnolia)