One of the chief strengths of Christopher Guest's brilliant ensemble comedies ("Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show") is how effortless they appear. Well, it's not always as easy as Guest makes it look, as director/co-writer Stephen Kessler ("National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation") proves with "The Independent," a stretched-to-the-limit parody of B-movie audacity starring a washed-up trash auteur named Morty Fineman (Jerry Stiller, whose borscht-belt schtick has now outlived its welcome a second time).
Fighting to save his library of more than 400 films from financial sharks who want to buy the entire lot -- at a per-pound rate, yet -- Fineman will resort to any possible P.R. gambit to preserve his legacy. The trouble is, respectable film festivals shrink from paying him tribute, and his best option for getting a new project off the ground is a musical based on the criminal career of an incarcerated serial killer. There's also some subplot effluvia about Fineman's strained relationship with his daughter, Paloma (Janeane Garofalo, almost as tiresome as Stiller in her passé, pity-me simpering).
Where Guest's pictures soar on the improvisational skills of their crack casts, "The Independent"'s skeletal script leans, crutch-like, on one-joke clips from Fineman travesties like Bald Justice and "Christ for the Defense." Their titles are all the yuks these time-wasting vignettes have to offer, and there's not much more zest in the testimonials to Fineman's "genius" that are contributed by real-life filmmakers such as Ron Howard and Roger Corman (to whose low-budget oeuvre "The Independent" is clearly indebted).
Near the film's halfway mark, the camera scrolls down a list of festivals that have rejected the idea of a Fineman retrospective. The words "Orlando Film Festival" take pride of place. So they got the name wrong, but I'm hoping the sentiment holds. The less of this counterfeit crapmeister we have to suffer, the better.
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