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'Haiku Tunnel'

Slacker wrestles with fears and freedom in 'Haiku Tunnel'

Friday, October 19, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"Haiku Tunnel," now at the Regent Square Theater, could serve as the biography of a few people I know. Fortunately, the movie is more fun and much less exasperating.

 
 
'Haiku Tunnel'

RATING: R for language and some sexuality.

STARRING: Josh Kornbluth, Warren Keith, Helen Shumaker.

DIRECTORS: Jacob and Josh Kornbluth.

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

The film's creator, Josh Kornbluth, introduces himself as a fictional person named "Josh Kornbluth." To make matters more confusing, Josh is listed as co-director with his brother, Jacob Kornbluth.

In the movie, Josh's job status defines his life -- he's a temp. Commitment paralyzes him. He lives in the moment, which may last hours or days by the reckoning of others. He is a rumpled terrestrial body around which he perceives the universe revolves.

A law of the cinema dictates that people we might barely tolerate in real life often seem funny or even charming on screen. It helps that Kornbluth can laugh at his own shortcomings, and make us do likewise.

While he paints a caricature of business life that gently lampoons such Dilbertian icons as the pointy-haired boss and the office manager from hell, we ultimately discover that the perfidy he ascribes to others exists mostly in his own imagination.

Kornbluth's sight gags and wordplay betray a certain schoolboy wit. When Josh starts to temp for the behemoth law firm of Schuyler & Mitchell, he realizes at once that he's gone in for S&M. He glances at the numbers above the elevators listing the floors they go to. One says, "666." Another says "25 or 6 to 4."

The crisis comes when Josh fulfills his tasks so well on his first day that the office manager, Marlina (Helen Shumaker), asks him the question that strikes sparks of alarm off his existential dread: "Do you want to go perm?" He doesn't, but when she says the company will pay for his psychoanalysis, he can't resist.

Naturally, when he must make his next commitment -- to type, address and mail 17 "very important" letters for his boss, tax attorney Bob Shelby (Warren Keith) -- Josh almost subconsciously latches onto any excuse to avoid it. Will Josh overcome his fear of filing? Will he ever stop temping his way through life? Will he get the courage to confide in anything less impersonal than Marlina's voice mail?

While the egocentrism of both the real and "fictional" Josh can be stifling, it's also central to the point of the film. His shaggy self-deprecation and his clever, smartly paced scenario (written by the Kornbluths and John Belucci) keep it as airy as a slacker's head.

Based on a comedy monologue Josh Kornbluth developed that was based on his own experiences as a temp, "Haiku Tunnel" takes its name from a project the "fictional" Kornbluth worked on while temping for an engineering firm. The job gave him all the freedom he could ever want -- which is, of course, the worst thing that could happen to someone like him.

What good is breaking the rules if there aren't any?

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