Sunday, July 21, 2013

Florian Steinbiss' NEANDER-JIN, a popular "minor festival" winner, gets its NYC debut

Billed as a screwball comedy, this 2011 German movie spoken mostly in English -- NEANDER JIN: THE RETURN OF THE NEAN-DERTHAL MAN, from first-time filmmaker Florian Steinbiss -- will take some getting used to. If you don't leave within minutes (or hit the eject button, should you be viewing it on DVD) due to a screenplay and direction so over-the-top that a "camp" experience seems just a step away, you may actually last the movie out. Despite its amateur quality in nearly every way, it does provide a few good laughs and even some satire, simple-minded though it be.

I am not sure why Herr Steinbiss (shown at left) -- who has directed, co-written and co-produced, as well as performed one of the supporting roles -- decided to make this odd concoction. (Perhaps to explore today's female's supposed need for a "real" man?) Whatever the reason, he has succeeded mostly in turning out a barely watchable movie in which everything goes too far yet never far enough, and in which the humor is, well, grade-school -- with some sexual references tossed in to bring it up to high-school level.

Within these parameters, there is some fun to be had -- from a few of the performers to the occasional visual trick up Steinbiss' sleeve: a sudden change to silent-movie mode, a little posterization, and a few other very minor special effects. The story -- a Neanderthal (gamely played by Jon Chardiet, below right and at bottom) back in the day manages to place together into a certain pattern a few stones, which magically transport him to the future, where he gets involved with a lovesick female (Sarah Muehlhause, below left) a shyster producer, a full-of-himself anthropologist, and a nosy neighbor and her little doggie (Rosalind Ayres, above).

Minor comedy ensures (the classic "screwball" variety, I'm afraid, is mostly in the mind of the filmmaker), along with over-the-top acting and some tired and obvious situations. The most sustained comic performance comes from veteran actor Rick Zieff, below, as a maintenance worker who first sights the Neanderthal when no one else is around and pays for it dearly.

The most over-the-top performer is Milton Welsh, below, playing the scam artist. Mr Welsh gets to do everything from hi-tailing it on the lam to dressing up in drag, and he is clearly having the time of his, if not our, life.

With hardly a bit of memorable dialog to quote or clever scenes to recall, this is still one of those very odd movies that, by their very awfulness, rather compels you to keep watching. It never quite -- more's the pity -- falls over into outright and unintentional camp, so a little "dumb fun" is about the most you can expect.

Neander Jin: The Return of.... opens this Friday, July 26, at Manhattan's Quad Cinema and will eventually, perhaps even sooner, arrive on DVD.

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