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PARK CITY — “On the Road With Judas” is one more attack on the notion that films need to have linear stories with main characters and a cathartic ending. Adapting his novel of the same name, director-writer JJ Lask has fashioned a film about the nature of narrative and storytelling, along with other scatological observations about life and art that seemingly popped into his head. Clever and moderately entertaining, film is a puzzle that will find some supporters as surely as it will sharply divide audiences. Controversy could generate some interest on the art house circuit.
The starting point for “On the Road With Judas” could well have been the ending of “Annie Hall” where Woody Allen, playing a writer, stages a play in which he winds up with Annie, contrary to how events turned out in the “real-life” of the film. He tells the audience that if he can’t get things to go his way in life, at least he can in art.
In “Judas,” Kevin Corrigan plays a character named JJ Lask who has written a book called “On the Road with Judas.” The so-called “real” people that the book is based on are played by one set of actors, while the same “fictionalized” characters from the book are played by another set of actors. Sound confusing? It is, intentionally so.
The storyline on its own is pretty straightforward. Judas (Aaron Ruell and Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a computer systems designer by day and, with his best buddy Francis (Alex Burns and Leo Fitzpatrick), a computer thief by night, vandalizing college campus all around New England. Judas meets a girl, Serra (Eleanor Hutchins and Amanda Loncar), falls in love and wants to tell her everything. But in Lask’s version nothing is simple.
In full postmodern mode, “Judas” is more a commentary on a love affair than the real thing. Much of the romance is literally played out on the stage of a talk show called “Let’s Have Drinks,” hosted by Rubin Parker Jr. (played by the real JJ Lask). The real characters, Corrigan as Lask, and even the fictional characters come on the show and dissect what’s happening in the book.
Lask seems more concerned with exploring the creative process and how all characters are lies fabricated from some kernel of reality, than he is in the actual love affair. Consequently, one watches more with a sense of detachment, trying to figure out who’s who than a rooting interest in these people getting together. Although the performances strike the right earnest but ironic tone, none of the characters — only the author played by Corrigan — come off as fully developed people. With the exception of one moving love scene where Judas bears his soul and says he would give up everything for Serra, Lask’s way to the heart is clearly through the head.
Keeping all the balls in the air is a first-rate technical feat, aided by Lask’s brisk editing (he was an award-winning editor of commercials) with Jason Kileen. Jennifer Dehghan’s production design, particularly for the stage of the mock talk show and Judas’ basketball-court-sized loft, captures the spacey tone of the material.
Savvy moviegoers may recognize elements of Charlie Kaufman’s work, specifically the real-fictional characters of “Adaptation,” as well the shifting personalities of David Lynch films such as “Mulholland Drive.” Whether the pieces add up to anything will be a subject for heated debate after the film.
ON THE ROAD WITH JUDAS
P.S. 260 and All Day Buffet Films
Directed by JJ Lask
Writer: Lask (based on his novel)
Producers: Amy Slotnick, Ronan P. Nagle
Director of Photography: Ben Starkman
Production Designer: Jennifer Dehghan
Costume Designer: Annie U. Yun
Editor: JJ Lask, Jason Kileen
Judas, real: Aaron Ruell
JJ Lask: Kevin Corrigan
Judas, actor: Eddie Kaye Thomas
Serra, actor: Eleanor Hutchins
Serra, real: Amanda Loncar
Francis, real: Alex Burns
Francis, actor: Leo Fitzpatrick
Rubin Parker Jr.: JJ Lask
Running time — 103 minutes
No MPAA rating
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