'Slacker' revels in oddity

October 03, 1991|By Vincent Canby | Vincent Canby,New York Times News Service

The place is Austin, Texas. The time, morning, afternoon, night and morning again.

A young fellow in a car runs over his mother and speeds off home, to wait for the police. At the scene of the accident, amid talk of calling an ambulance, a man tries to pick up a young woman who is jogging.

A guy sitting in a restaurant asks his friends, "Who's ever written the great work about the immense effort required not to create?"

A few blocks away a stoned soothsayer is revealing, though probably not for the first time, "We've been on Mars since 1962."

These are just some of a hundred or so relentlessly eccentric people who amble in and out of Richard Linklater's "Slacker," a series of unconnected vignettes that open one into another somewhat in the manner of Luis Bunuel's "The Phantom of Liberty."

"Slacker," made on a shoestring budget of $23,000 in 1989 [and being screened at the Charles Theatre tonight through Oct. 10], is a 14-course meal composed entirely of desserts or, more accurately, a conventional film whose narrative has been thrown out and replaced by enough bits of local color to stock five years' worth of ordinary movies.

Some of it is very funny, including an opening sequence that features the director. The members of Mr. Linklater's cast, most of whom are non-professionals, are so amazingly effective that it's hard to believe they didn't make up their own lunacies.

Instead, these lunacies come from Mr. Linklater's notebook. For years he's been jotting down curious scenes he's witnessed and swatches of mad conversations overheard, the sort that all of us try to remember but immediately forget. Mr. Linklater apparently sees his characters (or, as he calls them, slackers) as somehow representative of our time. Yet aside from their frequently upside-down syntax, they seem to be ageless in their oddities. That's fine.

Their charm and humor, however, are not inexhaustible. After a while, a certain monotony sets in, as well as desperation. It isn't easy being eccentric, and it's even more difficult to remain eccentric in the company of other eccentrics. A terrible transformation occurs: The unusual begins to look numbingly normal.

Toward the end of "Slacker," a sane voice might bring down the house, but it's not there.


Directed by Richard Linklater.

Released by Orion.

Rated R.

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