By Alan Scherstuhl
By Michael Atkinson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Abby Garnett
By Amy Nicholson
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Inkoo Kang
The weird title refers to two young adult brothers who share a house near Fairfax and Fountain and whose childhood nicknames were bestowed upon them by their half-Native American grandmother. Chris "Goat on Fire" Remi (Derick Martini) is basically the left brain of the two-man team, instilling the house with logic and order, paying the bills and wearing the results on his worried brow. His younger brother, Tony (Steven Martini), however, plays life like a whimsical game, raking his way through adoring ladies while hopefully pursuing an acting career, and living up to his moniker of "Smiling Fish." Although at first their polarized hemispheres seem a bit obvious, the real-life Martini brothers quickly instill their characters with plausible friction, as when Tony gleefully announces that he has an audition "tomorrow," and Chris knowingly asks, "But what are you doing today?" If their parents, who met as bit players at a screen test, hadn't been creamed on the 405 Freeway (again, entirely plausible), they'd be rolling their eyes at the foibles of their progeny. As it is, the brotherly best friends struggle to make sense of the crazy city on their own.
The basic plot revolves around capricious doses of olive oil, doughnut gluttony, evil office cubicles, a feast of indigenous cuisine (Fatburgers), blind hope, love gone wrong, sensitive boys with big, goofy heads, a delightful swarm of chickens and rabbits, and -- most distressingly (and, ultimately, fulfillingly) -- the poignant line: "It was nice almost getting to know you." These elements fall into place gracefully and gradually throughout the story, which begins by establishing the brothers' faltering romantic relationships. Although both men have steady girlfriends, they're quite obviously (to us, anyway) not the right girlfriends. Tony adores his wispy Nicole (Heather Jae Marie), but their joy turns to kerfuffle when she discovers an unfamiliar brand of condom in his boho bedroom (prompting a fine original song, but more on that later). Poor Chris has an even harder road to tread, as his longtime girlfriend, Alison (Amy Hathaway), selfishly puts him through an emotional wringer, weeping during sex, instigating trial separations and hiding a big, ugly secret. What are a hapless accountant and an oblivious actor to do?
As with most of life's conflicts, the solutions appear as they are needed, providing the characters are willing to work a little to understand them. Chris discovers a new perception of his world when his straitlaced boss, Burt Winter (Wesley Thompson), coerces him into shuttling his eighty-something Uncle Clive (Bill Henderson) back and forth to the office to break the old man's boredom. Clive quickly proves himself to be the finest sort of soul man, however, as he cheers Chris with his dry wit ("The music today, it fucks up your eardrums instead of making love to 'em!") and regales him with tales of his life as a sound recordist during the golden age of Hollywood. Tony, on the other hand, finds himself falling in love with a gentle, intelligent mail carrier named Kathy (Christa Miller), a single mother who has trotted out to Hollywood from Wyoming to offer her young daughter, Natalie (Nicole Rae), a shot at an acting career. As Kathy's genuineness captures Tony's heart and challenges him with the notion of sustainable love, Clive's stories deepen Chris's faith in romance. Just in time, too, because Chris meets a sultry Italian animal wrangler named Anna (Rosemarie Addeo) who is everything his withering flame Alison is not and never could be.
What makes this production so lively and enjoyable is not necessarily a crackling plot or exaggerated emotion (it actually errs, at times, on the side of fluff), but that it has made so much out of so little. Word has it that the whole movie cost about $40,000 (although Martin Scorsese's support may have enhanced that a bit), but the budget is irrelevant when you consider the refreshment that director Kevin Jordan and the co-scripting Martini brothers have wrung from these dusty streets. There is something inherently depressing about a Christmas party in L.A., especially one in a bachelor pad festooned with cheap decorations, but we're not allowed to linger on the anesthetizing setting, zooming in instead upon the simultaneous magic and loss of one brother brightening a child's holiday while the other accidentally dims his own future. By caring about the complexity of the siblings, the Martini brothers have painted us a truly heartfelt portrait.
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