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MOVIE REVIEW: Ayoade's first film can't surface from mediocrity

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Submarine

(PG-13)

2 out of 4 stars

It's quite rare, but every once in a blue moon a filmmaker will feel compelled to include a text introduction to their movie. Not to be confused with the usually misleading "based on real events" disclaimer, these proclamations provide set up, or in the case of recent Terrence Malick and Coen Brothers efforts, biblical quotes.

The most famous of these devices was George Lucas' upward running scroll prior in the first "Star Wars" later parodied to great effect by Mel Brooks in "Spaceballs."

For a rookie director to use this type of attention grabber is either the sign of a gargantuan ego or raging self-doubt with the material. For English native Richard Ayoade it's both and neither. He states that the movie you're about to see is the story of his life and we should sit back and enjoy it. This is odd as the story actually belongs to novelist Joe Dunthorne and the movie is anything but enjoyable.

In addition to being far too full of himself, Ayoade is unable to come up with a single instance of original storytelling with "Submarine." But to his credit, he pilfers from some impressive sources. In addition to the Coens, he pinches from Hal Ashby, Wes Anderson, John Cassavettes and a few more maverick visionaries from the past.

"Submarine" is a coming-of-age story about ordinary Welsh teen Oliver (Craig Roberts) whose principal goal is to lose his virginity before his 15th birthday. Because he has little in the way of sex appeal, charm or finesse, this task is monumentally difficult and provides the film with the bulk of its considerable dramatic conflict.

The remainder of the tension rests in Oliver's ability to keep his parents from separating. His father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) is a scientist of some sort who is hygienically challenged and appropriately aloof. Oliver's mother Jill (Sally Hawkins), though now prim and proper was once a hippie type who is contemplating a return to her roots when an old flame conveniently takes up residence right next door in the middle of nowhere.

He's Graham (Paddy Considine), a self-proclaimed mystic who sports a hideous mullet, practices Eastern-based self-defense moves in the oddest of circumstances and has an Asian trophy girlfriend. Graham, Oliver, Lloyd and Jill are all the kind of characters who exist only within the confines of art films invariably referred to as "quirky" and "offbeat." None of them are very likable but all carry minor appeal due to their broadly written eccentricities.

The wild card amongst the principals and sole saving grace in the film is Jordana (Yasmin Paige), the object of Oliver's desire. With her bob hairdo, minor skin condition, pyromaniac tendencies and poker face, Jordana keeps Oliver perpetually flummoxed and constantly chasing his tail. On occasion Jordana also drifts into unappealing behavior but she's largely unpredictable and fun to watch most of the time.

Although well-photographed, Ayoade prefers a muted, dark blue-gray palate that makes the Swansea Wales location the last place any prospective tourist would ever want to visit. Oliver and Jordana regularly occupy junk yards and litter-strewn beaches which only draw attention to Ayoade's desire to paint them and the film with such a faux-gritty light.

There are some who will find Ayoade's film brilliant and will hail him as a brash new talent who will go on to greatness and they might be right. Ayoade does have talent and he knows how to tell a story. Unfortunately, "Submarine" is the kind of story only a scant few will find interesting or entertaining. (The Weinstein Co.)