Title: Serving Up Richard
Director: Henry Olek
Starring: Ross McCall, Susan Priver, Jude Ciccolella, Darby Stanchfield
A tepid domestic hostage drama with the additional elemental garnish of cannibalism, “Serving Up Richard” tries to blend together pas de deux psychodrama with suspense, dark humor and a side serving of gore. It fails, in yawning fashion.
Eschewing the more practical advice of his wife Karen (Darby Stanchfield), new-to-Los-Angeles investment specialist Richard Reubens (Ross McCall) sets out to check in on a classified ad for a vintage Mustang. It turns out the owner, self-described anthropologist Everett Hutchins (Jude Ciccolella), is a cannibal, along with agoraphobic wife Glory (Susan Priver). When they drug and imprison him in a fortified guest room in their nondescript suburban home, it seems Richard is fated to be the next addition to their unorthodox menu. Slowly, though, Richard sets about trying to turn Glory to his favor. When she becomes convinced that he can become her new master, but only by killing Everett, things get even more complicated.
Director Henry Olek, working from a script co-written with Jay Longshore, tries to walk the line between psychological drama and gory chamber piece, but awkward attempts to shoehorn in black comedy — achieved chiefly through having Everett quote movie lines like “Herrrre’s Johnny!” and “You can’t handle the truth!” — fall flat. In fact, a lot of the dialogue is grating and/or pompous, and doesn’t seem to fit the characterizations (the use of the word “frickin'” and expressions like “There isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades…”).
The film’s dramatic examinations of Richard and Glory’s inner make-ups, respectively, are additionally hazy and defeating rather than interesting and evocative. The former occurs mainly through ruminative voiceover, obviously, while the latter at one point retires to her room for an unglimpsed, apparent meditation of several days. Feeling obligated to move the plot forward by degrees, Olek doesn’t allow time for his film to achieve any significant simmer.
Last year’s “The Perfect Host,” about a career criminal (Clayne Crawford) who rather quickly comes to regret holing up in the home of effete intellectual (David Hyde Pierce), wasn’t much more honest and rooted in its single-setting plot twists, but it did have the advantage of more believable and invested lead turns. “Serving Up Richard” suffers from fuzzy characterizations, which in turn feed indistinct performances. Ostensibly, Everett’s showmanship stems from his shamanistic knowledge and seniority, but Ciccolella trades in a certain smugness that comes across as hammy and theatrical, no matter the exertion of his will over his wife. Priver has a constipated-looking countenance that conveys the inner knots of someone who’s done bad things and is probably a bad person too, but has been living under the thumb of a mad(der) man; she’s the strongest link of the cast, but not given quite enough material to shine. McCall, meanwhile, has a kind of gumba everyman quality to him, which is fine as far as that goes, but damnable for a character who’s supposed to be a smooth-talking intellectual with his own morally compromised background. His performance doesn’t jibe or fit with what we’re told about Richard, one of but many problems with this halfhearted, pointless offering.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements in New York and elsewhere, “Serving Up Richard” opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. For more information, visit www.ServingUpRichard.com.
Written by: Brent Simon