Dir: Saul Metzstein.UK-Can-Ice. 2005. 94mins.
One would love to like afilm that was one of the few survivors from the British film funding crunch inFebruary 2004. But despite some enjoyable satire along the way, Guy X,the second feature from Scottish director Saul Metzstein, never adds up to thesum of its parts.
Set in 1979 on a remote USarmy base in Greenland, the film initially promises a return to the classic USarmy black comedy territory of Catch 22 or MASH. But after 20minutes, a dark, conspiracy-theory subplot kicks in, revolving around atop-secret hospital ward in a bunker below the permafrost.
The director's prize thatMetzstein picked up at Taormina last month may reflect his bravery at taking ona script that has "10th draft and still not right" written all over it. It'salso telling that Guy X has fallen into the summer crack between Cannesand Venice. At best it can possibly expect theatrical returns along the linesof the thematically similar Buffalo Soldiers, which took around $1.5m inthe UK and around a fifth of that in the US.
Jason Biggs plays RudySpruance, a US army information officer who thinks he is being posted toHawaii, but is in fact dropped off at the Qangattarsa base in Greenland, at thebeginning of the non-stop, mosquito-plagued Arctic summer.
This is the posting fromhell, a place on the edge of the military radar where the only activities aregetting drunk, turning out on parade and unloading a plane once a month.
Rudy is assigned to edit theQangattsara newspaper by base commander Colonel Woolrap (Northam), whose darklysatirical crazed army loyalist act is a pale reflection of the great original:George C Scott's turn as General "Buck" Turgidson in Dr Strangelove. Hiseventual romantic liaison with sexy sergeant Teal (McElhone) is signalled inneon right from the start, and runs smoother than any screen romance should,let alone one between two army officers of different rank.
The script also makes thingstoo easy in the scenes where Rudy visits the "Guy X" of the title - one of themysterious patients in the underground ward that is about as limited-access asPiccadilly Circus.
By the end one feels thatMetzstein is more interested in the plot's comic-surreal touches (like arunning puffin gag) and the group of slacker buddies who help Rudy run thenewspaper than he is in the increasingly portentous romantic and paranoidpsychodrama main plots.
Jason Biggs struggles gamelyto unite the two disparate strands - but it's a losing battle. Natasha McElhonesolves the problem by holding back both from the comedy and thepsycho-melodrama, as if hedging her bets, though the problem is as much in thewriting of the role as in her performance.
The film was shot onlocation in Iceland but the Noi Albinoi-style desolation is confined toplacing shots at the beginning and one brief sequence when Rudy tries to escapefrom the base.
Technical creditssuccessfully establish the dreary routine of life at the base, with itsjerry-built canteen, thin-walled offices and daily-groomed dirt and snowversion of the US flag.
Film & Music Entertainment
Icelandic Film Fund
Michael Lionello Cowan
John Paul Chappel
from the novel No-one Thinks Of Greenland by John Griesemer
Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson