'Crash Pad': Film Review

Courtesy of Woodstock Film Festival
A broadly appealing bad-behavior comedy relying on the winning chemistry of its two leads.

Alexander Payne's longtime editor Kevin Tent makes his solo directing debut with a comedy about men trying to rebuild their wounded egos.

A rom-com built on wounded male pride and enough booze to float a ship, Kevin Tent's Crash Pad makes BFFs of a romantic dweeb and the alpha male he has inadvertently cuckolded. The kind of high-concept (and sharply written) showcase for bad behavior that a big studio might have made with, say, Thomas Middleditch and Vince Vaughn, it has somehow wound up in the care of indie distrib Vertical Entertainment, sneaking into theaters later this month after a quiet festival debut. The lack of buzz is unfortunate for a crowd-pleaser with plenty of mainstream appeal. On the plus side, this production's casting of brilliant but less market-proven stars Domhnall Gleeson and Thomas Haden Church is the best thing that could have happened to Jeremy Catalino's script.

Gleeson is Stensland, a 29-year-old slacker whose fondness for stoned rewatchings of Dawson's Creek tells us plenty about his sensitive, romantic outlook. As the story begins, he's being kicked to the curb by an older woman he believes, two days after their first meeting, may be the love of his life: After two days of getting-to-know-you sex, Morgan (Christina Applegate) reveals that she's married, and that this fling was just a way to get even with a husband (Church's Grady) who cheated on her. The bad news is delivered as Stensland stands naked in her bedroom, clutching his privates in horror and shame — a reminder of the scene-setting breakup in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, though Stensland's florid protestations distinguish this nerdy man-child from the sad puppy-dog played by Jason Segel.

Desperate to prove this was not meaningless sex and that the two should be together, the poor guy later barges into Morgan's office, threatening to call Grady and tell him about the affair. (His rant draws Morgan's eavesdropping assistant Hannah, played by Nina Dobrev, into the drama.) Things go awry, and soon Grady is promising to find Stensland and murder him.

But a funny thing happens when the jealous husband shows up at the kid's bachelor pad: He recognizes the domestic squalor and fetid smell, and has a Proustian moment with a cheap canned stew. It's "all I ate when I was poor and pathetic like you," he says wistfully. Angry with his wife (turns out, Grady wasn't sleeping around), he blames her for his current state. "I started making a little money as a lawyer, and turned into George Hamilton." He misses his manliness, and decides to revive it (driving Morgan insane in the process) by moving into Stensland's apartment. He'll pay all the boy's bills, leading him into the ugly maw of macho pickup culture as he enjoys some vengeful hookups of his own.

Now comes the kind of binge-drinking for which bouts of vomiting or unconsciousness are only pauses between innings. Grady stubbornly pushes Stensland into the dumbest kind of bro behavior, from bar brawls to keg stands. Accusing him of having an "extreme muff deficiency," he forces him to repress his desire to get to know the women he's attracted to, focusing just on buying them drinks and taking them home. It's charming stuff. But as toxic as Grady's posturing is, the film remains funny because his mission is doomed: Stensland is incapable of becoming a boor, and eagle-eyed viewers may note that Grady's not quite following through, either.

Catalino's script plays by the redemptive rules, lightly spelling out how Grady shares responsibility for his predicament and pointing his characters toward the same realizations. But the movie's reason for being is the chemistry between Gleeson — mop-headed and awkward, an idealistic milquetoast wearing a pajama top as a shirt — and Church, mustachioed and oozing testosterone, but coolly incisive despite the dumb misogyny of Grady's lines. It's a dynamic that calls Sideways to mind, though Crash Pad never approaches that film's darkness. True to its transient title, this is a stopover of a movie, a chance to try on a kind of retrograde behavior, and find it wanting, before happily moving on.

Production companies: Indomitable Entertainment, Windowseat Entertainment
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Thomas Haden Church, Christina Applegate, Nina Dobrev
Director: Kevin Tent
Screenwriter: Jeremy Catalino
Producers: Lauren Bratman, William Horberg
Executive producers: Joe Ferro, Jesse Hara, Dominic Ianno, Bill Kiely, Greg Malcolm, Joseph McKelheer, Rachel Miller, Alexander Payne, Stuart Pollok, Elsa Ramo, Vicki Southeran
Director of photography: Seamus Tierney
Production designer: Brian Davie
Costume designer: Andrea Des Roches
Composer: Rolfe Kent
Venue: Woodstock Film Festival

Rated R, 92 minutes