No matter how half-baked or inconsequential the film, the presence of Jason Schwartzman is usually enough to guarantee that there’s at least one thing worth checking out. But even his unique brand of sarcastic, smart-aleck misanthropy ends up getting squandered in writer-director Bob Byington’s flyweight indie comedy, 7 Chinese Brothers. The title, as any card-carrying Gen-Xer knows, is a reference to an early ‘80s R.E.M. song off of Reckoning. So, in a way, it makes sense that the movie’s soundtrack is excellent. Too bad that it’s one of the only things this cinematic portrait of a serial screw-up has going for it.
Schwartzman stars as a chronic loser named Larry, who, at the opening of the movie, is fired from his restaurant job for stealing booze and tips. Not that he was invested in it. He’s not invested in much of anything. Which isn’t a crime in and of it itself, but if that’s where Byington’s head is at, he has to be willing to at least meet the audience half way, giving us some reason to care about this guy. Despite Schwartzman’s best efforts, he never does. After getting some tough-love advice from his brassy grandmother (Olympia Dukakis, who could do this kind of feisty turn with one arm tied behind her back), Larry finds employment at a Quick Lube franchise, where he goofs off and flirts with his no-nonsense supervisor, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta), who ends up falling for his best friend (TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe).
There’s not a lot more to it than that, really. This is a film that clocks in at just a hair over 75 minutes not because it’s tight and economical, but because it really doesn’t have much to say beyond the daily humiliations of smart people trapped in the service industry. Honestly, the only reason worth checking the film out is as a holdover for insatiable Schwartzman fans (I’m one of them) while they await his next good movie. But aside from some amusing on-screen ad-libbing with the actor’s adorable real-life pet dog, even that may not be reason enough. 7 Chinese Brothers is so slight it risks evaporating on contact. C