The Marc Pease Experience (PG-13) (87 min.) — There's a very good reason why a movie starring Ben Stiller is getting the heave-ho from Paramount Vantage into a few cities — but not New York and Los Angeles, apparently. The Marc Pease Experience stinks from first frame to last, in ways that are almost undefinable. Showing it to audiences where Stiller works and lives wouldn't help his career, or any others associated with it.
Todd Louiso's movie is either a comedy without a single joke, or a drama desperately wishing it were a comedy. Take your pick and then leave it alone. But a more pointless 87 minutes spent in a theater is unimaginable. You know a movie is lousy when scenes of high school students performing The Wiz are the only reason to watch.
Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited) plays Marc, a 24-year-old in arrested development that should get him arrested, dating a teenager named Meg (Anna Kendrick). Marc went to the same school, with the same ponytail and music teacher, Jon Gribble (Stiller). Marc still performs with an a cappella group called Meridian 8, even though four singers quit. He's selling his grandmother's condo to finance a demo recording, hopefully with Jon producing.
Jon is busy staging The Wiz, which Marc ruined eight years earlier with an unfunny case of stage fright. He's also having sex with Meg, which sends Marc spiraling into depression. He should try living on this side of the screen during this movie.
Louiso and co-writer Jacob Koskoff wrestle with absurdity — people treating too seriously things undeserving of it — yet never grasp the humor of it. The performances reek of desperate improvisation, or drown in self-satisfaction. Even limited to a few dozen theaters nationwide, The Marc Pease Experience is getting a wider release than it deserves and we drew a short straw. Lucky, lucky us. F
Steve Persall, Times film critic