It's been a long time since I've seen a movie as misguided and emotionally confused as Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break. A would-be dark comedy that's a little grim and rarely funny, it kicks off SXSW on the wrong foot.
Tom Meeten stars as Paul, an aspiring singer and dancer who still lives with his mother (June Watson). His dream is to audition for an internet talent show and share his passion with the world. But when the day arrives sooner than he expected, it's one disaster after another as he tries to make his way to the venue. The day ends in tragic fashion, with the mild-mannered Paul vowing revenge on everyone who got in his path.
The second half of the film is devoted to his bumbling efforts at vengeance. There are some particularly nasty deaths, but part of the joke is that Paul is never actually the one doing the killing. Ironically, his livestream of his day of reckoning becomes the most widely viewed video in social media history. But including this reveals a complete lack of taste on the part of the filmmakers. It was just two years ago that an actual madman live-streamed his massacre at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Whether or not the writers had this idea prior to that, it's disturbing to leave it in now, especially when it's meant to be played for laughs.
This isn't to say that terrorism or would-be terrorism can't be mined for humor. The British comedy Four Lions (2010) pulled this tricky act off beautifully. But part of the reason the film fails is it assumes that putting a good-natured doofus like Paul in a violent situation is comic gold. A man in a sequined catsuit wielding a samurai sword could be funny, but just showing the image isn't enough. Meeten isn't the magnetic presence needed to make it work. Merely being a decent guy in a world full of jerks isn't enough to make us root for him. The movie wants to be a Day-Glo Joker but it falls flat on its face.
Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break has a handful of funny moments and a killer '80s soundtrack. But that's not enough to overcome its tasteless second act and its weak attempts at satire and pathos.