“I know it’s cool to be so bored,” goes the Ben Folds Five song “Battle of Who Could Care Less.” “I guess it’s cool to be alone.”
Winning that battle is Marty Jackitansky (Joshua Burge), the disaffected protagonist of “Buzzard.” He works a $9.50 an hour “crap job” at a temp agency. His only interests are playing video games, listening to death metal, and fashioning a bladed Freddy Krueger prosthetic from an old Nintendo Power Glove. Not that Marty really cares. In his words, “It doesn’t matter.”
To outsmart the system, he resells office supplies for cash, and bilks fast food companies for free coupons. That deadly glove isn’t the only reason he keeps the world at a distance. Marty’s vaguely wounded, or entitled, and prone to explosive outbursts, though we never quite know why. “I’m happy now. Everyone really likes me,” he brags on the phone to his mother. That “everyone” is his dorky cubicle mate Derek, played by Joel Potrykus, who is also the film’s director and writer.
When the ante is upped after he traffics in petty check fraud, Marty goes on the lam, albeit not very far. He crashes with Derek, who has installed a sad “Party Zone” in his father’s basement. The two misfits play outdated video games and snarf snacks off a treadmill, “Because we’re friends,” Derek insists. But Marty even mistreats him. “We’re WORK friends.”
As director, Potrykus gazes with a grim eye. He shoots “Buzzard” (part three of his so called “animal trilogy”; parts one and two, “Coyote” and “Ape,” also starred Burge) in long and sometimes excruciating takes. One lengthy scene shows Marty in a hotel room, eating a plate of spaghetti. Zero dialogue. The single shot is four minutes long.
With his wide-set eyes and an avian nose, Marty-as-miscreant is indeed buzzard-like, when he’s not hiding his face behind a rubber horror character mask. But what he’s circling for is unclear. Even as a quiet pathos brews over time, “Buzzard” doesn’t quite gel into compelling drama.
Part of the problem is that Marty’s no lovable loser. Burge may cut his antihero from the same flag of alienation as Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” and more recent creeps like Lou Bloom in “Nightcrawler.” But at least Bickle and Bloom had dreams. Marty is so unreflective, so unwilling to change, it’s hard to invest in his quandary, even as his lot devolves into paranoia. He’s so inept he doesn’t realize his signature on the back of a canceled check might do him in. Duh. The dude is an unlikable, inept twerp.
Potrykus seems to be going for a critique of disengaged youth stuck in a corporate dystopia of dead-end jobs and fear of life itself. But as a “Clerks” for the Millennial generation, the social commentary of “Buzzard” tastes about as half baked as the Hot Pocket in Marty’s toaster oven.
When it comes to Ben Folds’s “general apathy and major boredom,” perhaps you do have to earn your unhappiness. Or at least try.
Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.