Red Flag amounts to little more than a decently entertaining yet largely dispensable road trip movie.
Red Flag (SFJFF Review)
Alex Karpovsky (most famously known for his work in Lena Dunham’s Girls and Tiny Furniture) plays an (assumedly) extra-neurotic version of himself á la Larry David in Red Flag, a meta dark comedy that’s somehow both navel-gazey and droningly indifferent. The film opens with Karpovsky being unceremoniously booted out of the life (and apartment) of his girlfriend of seven years (Caroline White). With angst and heartache bubbling beneath his Brooklyn-indie button-ups and sweatshirts, we follow him as he tours the Southern states showing his real-life sophomore film, Woodpecker, in tiny arthouse theaters and college campuses, slinging DVD’s for extra cash.
After a routine Q&A, he hooks up with a clingy indie groupie (Jennifer Prediger, playing an obsessive psycho version of Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That.) As the tour rolls on, Karpovsky is joined by the Prediger, his old friend (Onur Tukel, who forms a love connection with Prediger), and White, who he’s convinced to give him a second chance (after loads of overly-wordy begging that echoes John Cusack in High Fidelity.) When the truth about Karpovsky and Prediger’s one-night-stand surfaces, the group implodes.
Red Flag had me chuckling through my nose consistently throughout, but not once did it evoke the kind of belly laughs I get from the work of Woody Allen and Larry David (whose humor Karpovsky clearly derives from.) He’s got the right idea, but lacks finesse. Though I struggled to connect with his style of anxiety-fueled humor, he shows clear potential (a naggy phone exchange with his real-life Russian mother is a highlight.)
The film’s running gags—one involving Karpovsky swapping the word “frittata” for “fuck” as an anger-management exercise, and another in which he pleads with hotel managers for a late morning checkout—woefully fall into “diminishing returns” territory. Every time he’d “nerd-rage” on inanimate objects (a frequent occurrence), the triteness of it all would chop my interest down a notch.
The film looks pretty crummy, as drab as the yellow two-star motels Karpovsky and company laze through. It’s difficult to recall any interesting shots, though the cast occupies the screen well; they all have interesting faces and, more importantly, put on fine performances. Tukel in particular kept me engaged with his infectious bearded grin and weirdo optimism. Karpovsky’s 21st century neurotic nerd shtick (familiar to fans of his work on Girls) feels energy-deprived here. Whenever the film ventures into dark, existential territory it ends up feeling a bit weightless due to Karpovsky’s apathetic delivery. He does, however, hit his stride in scenes where he’s able to vocalize his character’s labyrinthine thought process.
Karpovsky has easy chemistry with his co-stars and the clever dialogue flows naturally, which shows skill—the script is simply a rough outline for the actors to follow and fill in the blanks as they shoot (a system utilized by Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm that affords the actors plenty of breathing room.) Though the premise of Red Flag is meta by nature, at the end of the day it amounts to little more than a decently entertaining yet largely dispensable road trip movie.