Homer Simpson once described Branson, the setting for Todd Sklar’s Awful Nice, as “Vegas run by Ned Flanders.” With that said, like the Cedar Rapids of Miguel Arteta’s comedy, a setting like Branson ought to offer more than just a quick punch line. Awful Nice is at times a harder edged brother comedy, one that never quite takes off despite lots of promise. At 88 minutes it runs out of steam while lacking the ambition to dive deeper — still, it’s not without its amusing moments.
Opening in a sweat lodge, David Brouilette (Alex Rennie) is awoken by his brother — the responsible one — Jim (James Pumphrey) and told that their father has died. Dave — the reckless one — has been in and out of trouble with the law and the black sheep of the family. Feeling competitive, they find themselves in a fistfight that, in its length and absurdity, shows promise that this film might have more sinister intentions. But, apart from a few amusing detours, the situational humor director Sklar and his co-writer (and star) Rennie build never quite delivers.
Once the will is unsealed, the boys find they’ve inherited a lakefront properly in the Ozarks. David, unburdened by a family and career, talks Jim into tagging along on a road trip to sign over the deed to the cabin to their dad’s business partner Jon Charbineau (Christopher Meloni, in a hilariously sleazy wig). Discovering the cabin has been trashed, David insists he and Jim take on the restoration and clean-up as a brotherly project. Of course his notion of “doing work” first involves a stop at the beer store for a keg.
What follows is unusual and at times a little pathetic and lazy. Sklar’s use of montages as the brothers hang out in Branson add energy, but very little depth. Essentially, this is exactly what you’d expect from a quirky indie, without the heart and insight of the very best films of the Brothers Duplass.
Awful Nice is not without funny and dark moments, but I wish it had subverted our expectations along the way. We find out Charbineau essentially runs the town, perhaps with mob connections, but this never pays off with regard to the what the boys’ father was up to. Despite some promise, so much is left unexplained or unpacked and it fails to deliver.
For rather straight-forward comedies like this I suppose it comes down to character. I propose a simple test: do I like these guys enough to go on this journey with them and/or does the filmmaker have a unique perspective on these guys? The answer to both is a marginal “no.”
Awful Nice is now playing in New York.