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AUSTIN – An undiluted dose of the low-budget sensibility that attracted stars like Ed Helms and John C. Reilly to the Duplass Brothers, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon needs little more than a zoom-equipped camera and some emotionally ragged actors to tell an archetypal tale of brotherhood. Better than Baghead but lacking that film’s genre hooks, this last of their pre-Cyrus microbudget productions will please fans and may earn a few new admirers at arthouses.
Brothers Mark (the Belushi-like Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (dough-faced Mark Kelly) have been estranged since a 1990, 25-event competition designed to decide which brother was best ended without a clear winner. When Jeremy crashes Mark’s birthday weekend at their mother’s house years later, a rematch is inevitable.
Inevitable or not, it’s fun watching two middle-aged lunkheads reverting to adolescent competitiveness, and the fun is compounded by secrecy: Mark has spent years in therapy to escape the past, and his wife Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur) is dead-set on protecting his ego from a new tournament. (Mark’s son, on the other hand, has newfound respect for his father each time he rises to a challenge.) So the Do-Deca-Redux begins undercover, with midnight Ping Pong and an intense, blood-vessel-popping arm-wrestling match staged silently while the “grown-ups” are asleep.
Mark’s compulsion to pick at these scars, diving into games that not only agitate him but threaten his marriage, is where the Duplass’s improv-heavy, awkwardness-courting approach pays off. Encouragement turns to disagreement and comedy bleeds into pathos in the film’s second half, which finds the mature brother becoming unreasonable and vice-versa.
Although total collapse never seems as likely as it did in The Puffy Chair, the conflict’s realistic sloppiness lends it weight. Other production values are slightly more polished than in the Brothers’ first film, suiting a story that is more conventional, which is not to say more predictable, than that shaggy road trip.
Venue: South By Southwest film festival, Narrative Spotlight
Production Company: Duplass Brothers Productions
Cast: Mark Kelly, Steve Zissis, Jennifer Lafleur, Julie Vorus, Reid Williams
Directors-Screenwriters: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Producers: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Stephanie Langhoff
Director of photography: Jas Shelton
Music: Julian Wass
Editor: Jay Deuby
No rating, 76 minutes
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