If there was ever a case study for a director shifting his target demographic from snickering adult lowbrows to very small children who spend their days encased in their own bodily leavings, it’s An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. Jim Hosking achieved a kind of gross-out evolutionary leap with his admirably filthy 2016 feature, The Greasy Strangler. He pushed the juvenilia envelope so far, it slipped off the table and into a puddle of fetid sick and cream cheese. Yet instead of bothering the collective gag reflex once more, he’s returned with his take on a twisted, semi-earnest romantic comedy, and it’s quite the misfire.
The central problem with this new film is that Hosking has cast a series of name actors as the leads, and each one comes with the baggage of past roles in classic sitcoms and comedy franchise bit parts. It appears as a necessary evil – a small concession to the mainstream in the form of a small coterie of game, slightly outré personalities. But this tactic backfires. Aubrey Plaza is the sort-of lead, the twitchy, chain-smoking harpy Lulu whose wild mood-swinging recalls the brighter days and stronger writing of her past as April in Parks and Recreation. The same goes for Jermaine Clement, so lovable as the ineffectual dolt in Flight of the Concords, but something is lost in translation as he hastily reworks the character for his role here as Colin, an ineffectual dolt and freelance bodyguard.
The one exception is Emile Hirsch, who brings something entirely new to the table. As Lulu’s hot-tempered, cuckolded husband, he seems to be channelling Leonard DiCaprio’s pilled-up antics in The Wolf of Wall Street, working wonders with budging blood vessels and a jutting lower jaw. He’s the sole combustable presence in the film, and it’s sad that he’s pretty much written out of proceedings after the first 20 minutes. His loveless marriage with Lulu receives a sudden jolt when she sees an advertisement for a magical evening with Beverly Luff Linn (a grunting Craig Robinson in neon golf tweeds) on the TV.
She swiftly absconds with Colin to a maritime-themed hotel, and excitedly waits for this showcase which, mysteriously, keeps getting pushed back in the schedule. This is when the film dies. Each new scene arrives and stokes the anticipation that something really bizarre or stupid will happen, but it never does. Hosking relies on silly non sequiturs and rambling anecdotes, avoiding conventional punchlines like they were some kind of evil curse. The cast don’t really seem to understand or appreciate the type of film they’re making, but certainly do as much as they can to lift the woefully thin material.
And it’s a shame, as Hosking is someone who is plowing his own, wacky furrow, and he absolutely should be allowed to do that. Yet this is a stultifying, stupid, almost nihilistically shallow work, which challenges the patience while offering scant reward. It recalls that stretch in the second season of Twin Peaks where all the episodes become unwatchably irritating. There are some weirdo non-actors in supporting roles who do bring some comic levity to the brew, but it’s just not enough.