The Drake brothers probably can’t believe their luck. The Hangover cost $35m to make and has taken $400m and the box office and counting. Among its stars that aren’t stars is semi-obscure stand-up comedian Zach Galifianakis, who the writer/director siblings of Visioneers cast as their leading man. Visioneers couldn’t be more different from The Hangover, though. Because it’s shit.
This somnambulant nightmare of a movie stands to benefit Galifianakis more than anyone else – not least the people who watch it – for the sole reason that it gives him a chance to show off his serious acting chops, which should be enough to prop up half of a ‘tears of a clown’ style article when his friend and peer Patton Oswalt debuts as a dramatic leading man in Big Fan later this year, which is the directorial debut of the writer of that and The Wrestler and looks much better than Visioneers, for the following reasons:
This isn’t anything new. The look, tone and overriding point of Visioneers – it’s pious enough to have one – has already been done to death. Modern life is rubbish, advertising is bad but it works, the president is a corporate pawn, people are enslaved by their day jobs, values that are not our own are being pushed onto us, which we adopt out of a sense of blind conformity and – guess what?! – it makes us unhappy. These are points all made by better actors speaking better dialogue in better stories with better plots in the following films: A Clockwork Orange, Office Space, Network, American Beauty, The Wizard Of Oz, Videodrome and, fuck it, even I Heart Huckabees, which isn’t any good. Visioneers recalls all and sometimes borrows from some of these films at one point or another, but never swerves from its tired, plodding pacing, as if any kind of momentum or spark would constitute betraying its own lofty but deathly boring and pretentious ideals.
It’s not anything different. It is possible to be derivative and break some new ground. Parody and satire rotate on that axis, whereas Visioneers can’t even rip off better films and try to blind anyone who watches it with its earnestness, because the characters it features are all underwritten: Galifianakis’s character, George, is the embodiment of impotent rage, flanked by a wife who does nothing but act as a sop to his discontent. You wouldn’t get a more chauvinistically written female character outside a Judd Atapow movie; her moment of clarity is a lumpen, unmoving outpouring 75 minutes into the movie, 73 minutes after anyone with two brain cells to rub together has figured out the target of its dreary satire. Elsewhere we get the corporate shill hanging from the top of his monolithic company like a Christmas tree fairy; a fraudulent TV demagogue; a vapid personal trainer; a hippie brother staging a revolution in their back garden that’s really just a load of hippies doing an afternoon of athletics and a son we don’t see. Oh, and a love interest who turns out to be beautiful when we and our protagonist finally see her face.
It’s a comedy that’s not funny. Billed as a ‘black comedy’, the humour doesn’t go beyond affording the audience a few opportunities to look down their noses at popular culture, should they be intellect-free aspiring intellectuals. George’s middle name is Washington and his recurring escapist fantasy is about embodying the General and leading a battle against… oh Christ, need I go on? He hates his wife and wants to fuck off with someone he’s fallen in love with over the phone, basically, and we’re meant to root for him on the off-chance that we might empathize with him.
Finally, there’s no pay off. Visioneers wraps itself up with the trite, closed ending of a Hollywood romcom. After George’s wife gets her ghost in the machine out, it’s as if the writers simply ran out of ideas. There’s an implausible payoff about the secret behind the success of George’s company that’s nothing more than a lazy accusation that big organizations are the Bad Guys and that these things don’t grow out of human qualities like ambition, George saves himself and gets the girl. Arrogance isn’t the preserve of the rich and powerful and there’s never a doubt in the viewers’ mind how this film will end. Instead of freeing himself from the ties the bind him, George shackles himself to doing what he wants, all the time. The people who do that end up successful and alone, not happy and in love.