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A sneak peek at Steven Wright's and Dave Foley's unreleased comedies

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Steven Wright
Mark Morelli

Last weekend, while half the country was heading to the ”Austin Powers” sequel for its humor fix, one theaterful of New Yorkers got the rare treat of laughing through movies by Steven Wright and ex-”NewsRadio” star Dave Foley. (The event was part of Manhattan’s Toyota Comedy Festival.)

The 30-minute ”One Soldier” is Wright’s directing debut and his first screenplay since the 1988 Oscar-winning short ”The Appointments of Dennis Jennings.” The comic, who plays a depressed Civil War veteran obsessed with the pointlessness of life, spends the film philosophizing in his trademark overmedicated monotone. ”Once God spoke to me in a dream,” his character intones. ”He said, ‘You can sleep for 10 more minutes.’ That was an amazing experience.” Later he muses, ”I think we’re here (on this planet) because it was too crowded where we’re supposed to be.”

The film is shot in grainy black-and-white, which makes its long, quiet scenes and morose humor seem like Woody Allen isn’t the only director who has gone through an Ingmar Bergman phase. Wright says that’s a common but untrue observation. ”It looks that way because I shot it on 16mm,” he later told EW Online by phone. ”I was paying for it myself, and that look just came out of trying to do it in an inexpensive way.” Wright won’t disclose the budget, saying only that it ”cost about the same as buying a car.” When pressed, he narrowed it down to ”a new car of medium quality.”

Wright wasn’t in New York to see the audience’s reaction, but he nervously asked EW Online, ”They were laughing, though, weren’t they?” This was a marked change from his relaxed attitude before the short’s well-received premiere at March’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. ”Maybe I’m insane, but it wasn’t until I left Aspen that I realized how bad it could have been,” he says. ”I was like, ‘Oh God. If they had been silent… that would have been horrible.’ I’m glad part of my brain wasn’t functioning, because I eliminated a stressful experience totally by accident.”

Dave Foley — sporting a very un-”NewsRadio”-like bleached, spiky hairdo for his upcoming role in the partly animated ”Monkey Bone” — was at the screening to introduce ”The Wrong Guy,” which remains unreleased in the U.S. after its completion three years ago. Foley, the movie’s star, cowriter, and coexecutive producer, gamely explained its tortured past. ”In the middle of production, the distributor, Buena Vista, ceased to exist (because its parent company, Disney, shut it down),” he explained. ”And the Canadian backers, Paragon Films, went bankrupt afterward. It’s my view that this movie is cursed, so watch it at your own risk. But be warned: Bad things will happen if you view this movie.” Sure enough, midway through the screening the film unspooled from the projector, causing Foley to shout out, ”You were skeptical before about the curse!”

The uproarious film, about a sycophantic executive (Foley) whose boss is murdered and who becomes convinced the police are out to arrest him (they’re not), shares the absurdist and satiric edge of Foley’s alma mater, ”Kids in the Hall,” and provides more belly laughs than the group’s one movie, ”Brain Candy.” Jennifer Tilly stars as Foley’s narcoleptic love interest, and ”Just Shoot Me”’s Enrico Colantoni has a cameo as a conspiracy theorist: ”You know how many people shot JFK?” he asks. ”None. His head just did that. I call it the No Gunman Theory.”

The film still belongs to Disney, but Foley told EW Online that because the executive who originally greenlighted it has left the company, ”The Wrong Guy” probably isn’t high on the studio’s priority list. So even though the full-length feature won a Screenplay Award at March’s Aspen Comedy Festival, fans wanting to see it anytime soon should head to Canada, where it is out on video after a short and dismal run in theaters. ”My hometown press in Toronto gave it really bad reviews,” Foley said. ”I think they were mad at me for leaving town.”

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