Victoria Film Festival reviews: Dysfunctional family strangely familiar

Times Colonist movie writer Michael D. Reid is covering the Victoria Film Festival. Go to timescolonist.com./VFF for daily updates. Ratings are out of five stars.

The Steps
Cineplex Odeon, Feb. 9, 6:30 p.m.
Star Cinema, Feb. 11, 3 p.m.
Rating: three stars

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While Victoria-raised director Andrew Currie’s broad ensemble comedy about a dysfunctional blended family’s enforced get-together in northern Ontario is more schematic than his last festival entry, his wickedly inspired 2007 zombie satire Fido, his assured direction and the contributions of his colourful cast compensate for sketchy character development and narrative issues. Helping Currie’s wintry lark succeed on its own terms is the comic potential of writer Robyn Harding’s scenario set in motion by Ed (James Brolin), the family’s wealthy patriarch, and his free-spirited new fiancée Sherry (played to perfection by a spandex-clad Christine Lahti). Hoping to impress a social worker so they can adopt a young Chinese girl, the estranged father invites his son Jeff (Jason Ritter), an unemployed New York stockbroker, and promiscuous, hard-drinking daughter Marla (Emmanuelle Chriqui), to their fancy lakefront home in Parry Sound to meet their new stepmother and her trashy offspring from different dads. While this cynical pair couldn’t have less in common with these caricatured hicks — Tammy (Kate Corbett), a sweet-natured dimbulb; David (Benjamin Arthur), a pushy redneck paintball business owner; Keith (Steven McCarthy) an angry rock musician and recovering addict; a smart stoner (Vinay Virmani) — the cast collectively pulls off some amusing hijinks that transcend the material’s triteness, notably during a disastrous paintball game. It’s all amusingly diverting, yet strangely familiar.

Wonderland
Cineplex Odeon
Thursday, 7:15 p.m.
Rating: two and a half stars

It must have sounded like a great idea at the time — having 10 emerging directors create stylistically distinctive mini-dramas to be interwoven within a disaster film that wryly contrasts nationwide reaction to a mysterious, potentially catastrophic system of dark storm clouds that inexplicably gathers over Switzerland. This is the gimmicky foundation for an ambitious, fitfully intriguing but ultimately unwieldy sci-fi parable of sorts. While this arty omnibus is visually striking — as during an ironic sequence in which panic-stricken Swiss refugees desperately try to flee to European Union countries Switzerland has been isolated from — the film is short on genuine tension and dramatic potency.

We become aware of the stylized artifice to the point of distraction. As meandering and disjointed as this experimental Switzerland-German co-production is, it’s not, to be fair, without some compelling characters whose perspectives on this disturbing phenomenon inspire snippets of satire, political commentary and cynicism.

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