Owen Gleiberman
June 07, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Bartleby

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG-13
runtime
83 minutes
Limited Release Date
05/24/02
performer
Crispin Glover, David Paymer, Seymour Cassel, Maury Chaykin, Glenne Headly, Joe Piscopo
director
Jonathan Parker
distributor
Outrider
author
Catherine DiNapoli, Jonathan Parker
genre
Drama

We gave it an D

The cult of Crispin Glover has only grown as his presence as an artist has shrunk. He’s still pushing the same vintage roboto weirdness — the hair like a shellacked Beatle wig, the terrified-cuckoo stare, the wavery voice that sounds as if it were caught in a tremor of nausea. Except that Glover, back in the ’80s, used to merge with his roles: In Back to the Future and River’s Edge, he was stylized yet true, a Method actor gone madly Kabuki. Now, he just seems like an overgrown moon child desperate to be loved for the very concept of his eccentric being. It doesn’t help that Bartleby is a one-joke movie, and a bad joke at that. The director, Jonathan Parker, takes Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville’s visionary novella about the repressed madness of the stultified modern office worker, and turns it into a no-fizzle episode of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Glover, wearing a dark suit and a look of blank worry, is Bartleby, who takes a job as a file clerk and begins to answer every directive with the enigmatic rebel homily, ”I would prefer not to.” It’s no insult to Melville to say that he wrote, in effect, the original Dilbert. This movie, unfortunately, makes Dilbert look like Melville.

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