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Gunning for Adulthood

Despite some first-time flaws, Too Much Sleep is an entertaining and quirky debut.

In David Maquiling's quirky little first feature, Too Much Sleep, a rudderless 24-year-old who lives at home with his mother and works nights as a security guard must go on a quest. Rising lazily from his bed, he ventures into the tidy suburbs of New Jersey to track down a .38 revolver that's been stolen from him on a city bus. It's more than a gun he's searching for, of course: Young Jack Crawford (Marc Palmieri) is also struggling to find himself, to get a reading on his future, to grow up.

At first look, this seems like another coming-of-age story in which an appealing, big-eyed innocent survives a comic nightmare and manages to cast off the last vestiges of adolescence. But writer-director Maquiling, the New Jersey-raised son of an immigrant Filipino surgeon, has a keener eye than most rookie moviemakers and a precocious grasp of the absurdities and ambiguities of adult life. So Jack's odyssey, despite some clunky writing and predictable first-movie missteps, gives off a flavor and a flair that stick with you. The quality should come as no surprise. Sleep is the third film in the current Shooting Gallery series, an award-winning annual selection of indie features that has previously given a boost to gems like Croupier and A Time for Drunken Horses. A development company as well as a distributor, Shooting Gallery also helped get You Can Count on Me off the ground last year.

The attractions of Too Much Sleep are certainly not its production values, which are a click or two above student-film level, or Maquiling's time-weary take on the spiritual emptiness of suburbia. His real talent seems to lie in throwing oddball characters at us without fear. While on the hunt for his gun and himself, our baffled Jack meets plenty of weirdos -- a wild-eyed racquetball nut (Jon Langione) with some strange ideas about massage, an unhappy male nurse (Stan Carp) who calmly holds forth on how to kill patients in their hospital beds, and a leather-clad dancer at a beefcake joint (R.G. Rader) who thrashes our hero half to death in the parking lot, then sweetly apologizes.

Pasquale Gaeta and Marc Palmieri star in the promising Too Much Sleep.
Pasquale Gaeta and Marc Palmieri star in the promising Too Much Sleep.
Pasquale Gaeta and Marc Palmieri star in the promising Too Much Sleep.
Pasquale Gaeta and Marc Palmieri star in the promising Too Much Sleep.
Pasquale Gaeta and Marc Palmieri star in the promising Too Much Sleep.
Pasquale Gaeta and Marc Palmieri star in the promising Too Much Sleep.
Pasquale Gaeta and Marc Palmieri star in the promising Too Much Sleep.
Pasquale Gaeta and Marc Palmieri star in the promising Too Much Sleep.

Throw in Jack's hectoring mother (Joan Maquiling), a couple of his slacker pals and a mysterious beauty who works in a Chinese restaurant (Nicol Zanzarella) and you've got a gallery of goofballs every bit as vivid as the lunatics poor Griffin Dunne ran afoul of in After Hours.

Best of all, Jack's guide and surrogate father is an exuberant goombah named Eddie DeLuca (Pasquale Gaeta), a delicatessen raconteur who gives Jack a lot of wrong-headed advice about how to find his missing gun, comes up with all kinds of rough-hewn life lessons and regales him -- in a street voice that's a dead ringer for Joe Pesci's -- with an endless stream of outlandish stories about everything from beating up a guy in a Mr. Peanut costume to the recent laser surgery performed on his privates to the time he won a fortune in Vegas, ate a twelve-pound lobster for dinner and spent the night with Doris Day. The contrast between Eddie's bottomless energy and Jack's deadpan, Gen-X bewilderment is one of the things that makes Too Much Sleep work so well, despite its amateurish flaws. The chemistry between young Palmieri (this is his first movie) and old hand Gaeta (he's been banging around the New York theater for twenty years) is delightfully engaging.

As for Maquiling, there's no reason not to expect better things from him. A graduate of New York University's film school (as are cinematographer Robert Mowen, editor Jim Villone and composer Mitchell Toomey), he reveals a sharp intelligence and a well-developed wit in this highly entertaining, if not exactly original, tale about a young seeker navigating the treacherous waters of adulthood. How encouraging that the talent scouts at Shooting Gallery continue to keep their eyes peeled and their ears open.

 
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