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'Chuck & Buck': Fractured Tale Of Obsession

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 21, 2000


    'Chuck & Buck' Mike White, Chris Weitz in "Chuck & Buck." (Artisan)
"Chuck & Buck" carries an explicit warning: Beware of geeks bearing gifts, especially when that gift is their own wad of benighted, glistening, horrid love. The movie might, in fact, be the "Citizen Kane" of twisted-geek movies.

Of course such forays into the deeply perverse must begin with a normalcy from which to shrink. In the film, Charlie represents normalcy, in every way a perfect example of the species Yuppus Southern Californus. He's a young entertainment executive, engaged to a lovely girl with whom he lives in a house that's clearly been decorated. He's a Bimmer pilot who weaves his way along the smoggy boulevards of L.A. without glimpsing the peasantry. He has Tom Cruise's smile, Steven Spielberg's work ethic and David Geffen's ambition. He's on his way.

But then his childhood friend Buck writes. Buck's mom has died and Charlie (Chris Weitz) feels an obligation to attend the funeral. There he meets Buck (Mike White), consumed in grief. Except, guess what, he's not.

Ma's chilling in the casket, various weepers and wailers are doing their thing, but Buck's face lights in childish delight when he sees old pal Charlie, whom he called Chuck. He beams like a Bozo with a light bulb nose and his eyes empty of all emotion except glee. What's that running out his mouth? Oh. Drool.

A few exchanges and we get the picture, even if Charlie never quite does: Buck is stone nuts. Evidently a case of development so arrested it's frozen or possibly even petrified, Buck is a 26-year-old body occupied by an 11-year-old brain. A lollipop-sucking dork from Hell, he has a child's guilelessness and lack of self-awareness but also a child's instinctive capacity to manipulate. His crush on Chuck soon explodes into a full-blown obsession, and he's turned into the only stalker in history who sleeps in cowboy PJs next to a vaporizer.

Yet the movie, written by White himself and directed by Miguel Areta, never goes where you expect it to. It seems set up to enjoy the horror as single-minded madman completely deconstructs the well-ordered life of someone we don't quite mind seeing destroyed, the whole thing tending toward violence. And it does play with this theme, particularly when Buck's mild raids into Charlie's territory create not so much alarm as clammy discomfort, while Charlie's simmering rage builds and Buck refuses to take a hint.

But then we're off in a strange place. Lurking outside Charlie's sleek West L.A. building, Buck wanders into a children's theater and begins to chat with the house manager, Beverly (Lupe Onteveros). Soon he's written a play and is paying her to produce it. It's a fractured fairy tale of his own life, of his love for Chuck, of their boyhood bond that was so intense it locked him in emotional amber like a prehistoric dragonfly. He insists on casting actors not on their talent but on a narrower criterion: how much they look like Chuck and himself (to the old pro Beverly's consternation).

This is a very strange movie. It is full of hostility and aggression, both of which are muted into slow burns and simmering long takes. It's a fable of repression, and you feel the iron grip of that instinct on the heart, particularly as it becomes clear that in some murky past, more passed between Chuck and Buck than mere friendship.

Do you like the clammy as opposed to the scary? Do you like dread rather than drama, anguish and emotional coagulation rather than screamfests? Well, that's exactly what "Chuck & Buck" is selling, and how.

CHUCK & BUCK (R, 95 minutes) – Contains profanity, sexual situations and intensity.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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