South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival – I wanted so hard to love PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK. The story of meek rummage store worker Paul Dood (Tom Meeten) who nearly misses a shot to audition for his favorite talent competition show while inadvertently going on a murder spree had so much going for it. Frankly, it still does, but the film is weighed down by a number of things that keep it from reaching the zany, comedic heights it hopes to reach. A plodding, overly sweet comedy of errors DOOD plays it far too safe for the darker elements of the story and far too dark for the sweeter moments.
Directed by Nick Gillespie and written by Brook Driver, Matt White, with Gillespie en toe, our story opens on affable Dood in his room at his mother’s home. He is getting ready to record another video post to social media when his doting mother Julie (June Watson) relentlessly offers encouragement and orange marmalade. It’s a sweet scene, no pun intended, that sets the tone for the film. Julie supports her aging son at all costs on his way to stardom which he hopelessly succumbs to with a smile. Paul heads to work where his insufferable coworker Simon (Lloyd Griffith) berates him and shop manager and budding therapist Jayney (Pippa Haywood) offers therapy sessions. Paul realizes that the big audition that he had been preparing for is a week early, “today” in fact, and he races home, picks up his wheelchair-bound mother, and makes his way to town. Along the way, we meet an ambitious train attendant, a pretentious tea room owner, a duplicitous vicar, and his assistant, all of whom create some unnecessary delay. Paul arrives at the audition where TV celebrity Jack Tapp (Kevin Bishop) begrudgingly sits through Paul’s audition before giving him a pass. To make matters worse, terrible tragedy strikes seconds after, and Paul is sent into a mental tailspin, envisioning the various ways he will get revenge on all who stood in the way of his ultimate dream, stardom.
After fantasizing about the spectacular ways that he would murder each of his enemies he sets out to do so on one of his lunch breaks. Here’s where the film loses its teeth and gums us to death with a hapless hero and saccharine sentiment. Deaths happen, rest assured. However, the comedy is utterly dulled by the subsequent mishaps and at times incredulous catastrophes that befall our anti-hero.
Paul is, without question, one of the sweetest characters I have seen in a while. Wonderfully played by charismatic Meeten, the comedy would have had a lot more edge to it if Paul’s eventual mishaps had matched or surpassed his fantasies of bloodshed and mayhem. As it is now, the film is weighed down by shallow jokes that play far too long, comedy that overstays its welcome, and hesitation to embrace the darker side of things, which ultimately allows us to process and, in this case, hopefully, to laugh. A silly diversion, but nothing more. PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK screened at South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival
5 out of 10