Los Angeles Film Festival

Visual humor is a rarity in films these days, so writer-director-actor Scott Prendergast brings welcome qualities to the cinematic landscape. Working in the tradition of Chaplin, Keaton, Tati or the Woody Allen of "Sleeper," Prendergast makes a striking debut with "Kabluey." The film is an ambitious mix of slapstick, black comedy and stinging social commentary.

Lisa Kudrow's excellent star turn certainly will add to the film's appeal, but the picture might turn out to have more value as a calling card for Prendergast than as a bona fide boxoffice success in its own right. Still, it seems like a possible cult favorite, either in theaters or on DVD.

The film is one of the few to address the Iraq War, even though the subject is handled indirectly. Leslie's (Kudrow) husband is on a long deployment as a member of the National Guard, and she's struggling to raise two obstreperous young sons while holding down a job. Desperate for help, she turns to her unemployed brother-in-law, Salman (Prendergast), whose only asset is his availability.

Salman does not exactly hit it off with his nephews; the eldest, a holy terror, whispers to him in deadly earnest, "I'm going to kill you." Leslie gets him a part-time job with a dot-com that's barely surviving. His job is to dress in a gigantic blue costume -- the inspiration for the film's title -- and hand out fliers trying to sell office space in the company's near-vacant building. The job is a dead end, but Salman's alter ego, Kabluey, does ultimately have a restorative effect on the family he's trying to help.

Much of the visual humor comes from the Kabluey costume. Prendergast gets a lot of mileage out of the spectacle of this giant blue blob in the forlorn Texas countryside, and there are neat sight gags like Salman unzipping his costume and sticking his hand out of his rear end to snag a cold drink. There also are a number of subtler visual jokes, like Salman pulling a thumbtack out of his cereal -- courtesy of his homicidal nephew. The film also has some biting comments to make on the domestic repercussions of the Iraq War as well as the desperate state of the economy in the heartland.

"Kabluey" is a tasty mixture of sweet and sour observations. The sweetness comes primarily from the performance of Prendergast. A comedian who got his start with the Groundlings in Los Angeles, he has a sad-sack quality that grows more endearing as the film continues. Starting as the ultimate slacker, Salman becomes quite engaged in improving the lives of his sister-in-law and her family, and the actor convinces us of the healing power of Salman's good heart.

Kudrow doesn't shy away from presenting the selfish side of her character, but she also illuminates the loneliness underlying her bad behavior. The two child actors, Landon Henninger and Cameron Wofford, give delightfully unsentimental performances, and there are sharp supporting turns from Conchata Ferrell and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the folks who hire Salman. Teri Garr also has a choice cameo that consists of very little besides her startled, hilarious reactions to the sight of Kabluey.

The film is well shot and cleverly designed. Although this is a modest film, it achieves some uproarious belly laughs as well as moments of unexpected tenderness. That combo indicates the emergence of a promising new filmmaker.

Whitewater Films
Director-screenwriter: Scott Prendergast
Producers: Rick Rosenthal, Gary Dean Simpson, Rhoades Rader, Jeff Balis, Doug Sutherland
Executive producers: Sarah Feinberg, Nancy Stephens
Director of photography: Michael Lohmann
Production designer: Walter Barnett
Music: Roddy Bottum
Co-producer: Ryan Peterson
Costume designer: Lisa Barnes
Editor: Lawrence Maddox
Leslie: Lisa Kudrow
Salman: Scott Prendergast
Kathleen: Conchata Ferrell
Brad: Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Suze: Teri Garr
Lincoln: Landon Henninger
Cameron: Cameron Wofford
Betty: Christine Taylor
Frank: Chris Parnell
Ramona: Angela Sarafyan
Elizabeth: Patricia Buckley
Running time -- 87 minutes
No MPAA rating