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A nice and nasty look at 21st-century office life

Friday, May 10, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

It's Dawn of the Canadian Dead -- a nightmare habitat, compared to which Monroeville Mall is Walden Pond.

Even George Romero and Tom Savini would be freaked out if they found themselves "waydowntown" -- an interconnected maze of high-tech corporate offices and apartment complexes under one mega-roof in (of all places) Calgary. A bet is on among its young groovy denizens: Who can stay inside this sealed-in, chrome-and-glass ecosystem the longest without losing his or her mind?


RATING: R for adult subjects, sexual themes and language

STARRING: Fab Filippo, Marya Delver, Don McKellar, Gordon Currie

DIRECTOR: Gary Burns

Critic's call:


Everybody has already lost his or her touch with reality -- such as it is -- in "waydowntown," the latest case of lower-case movie titles, whose pronunciation and cutting-edge satire have no equivalent in Pittsburghese.

Handsome hero of the tale is Tom (Fab Filippo), whose jaunty confidence is starting to crack after 24 sequestered days. Tom's hallucinatory in-and-out-of-body experiences now include periodic sightings of Superman and the ability to swim (later levitate) through the labyrinthine corridors of "Maher, Maher & Maher."

His tightly wound colleague Sandra (Marya Delver), meanwhile, has the unenviable job of following around one of the Mr. Mahers -- a kleptomaniac -- to prevent him from getting caught shoplifting elsewhere in the mall. Paranoid about toxic air circulating and recirculating through the office vents, she compulsively sniffs perfume samples from Vanity Fair as an antidote.

Sandra is the picture of mental health compared with Brad (Don McKellar), Tom's self-mutilating cubicle-mate, who keeps stapling signs ("Don't Compromise, Prioritize" or "Don't Make Excuses, Make Improvements") to his own increasingly bloody chest.

To say nothing of Curt (Gordon Currie), the office Don Juan, who seduces the terribly vulnerable Kathy (Tammy Isbell) in a restroom, even as -- unbeknownst to both them -- their weird co-worker Vickie (Jennifer Clement) is painting her toenails and eavesdropping in the adjacent stall.

Don't ask. Just let me add that Tom, in his cubicle, keeps an ant farm -- a perfect scale-model metaphor for the human environment here, which comes thoughtfully equipped with a primal-scream chamber for employee panic attacks.

On the other hand, Tom has a lighthearted side, manifested by his charming prank of substituting an actual dead mouse for the computer one on his colleagues' mouse pads. This produces a fascinating range of horrific reactions, which somehow reinforce what Tom really wants to do -- if anything -- which is to write a great Dostoyevskian novel called "Crime and Getting Away With It."

Get the idea? Maybe, maybe not. Everything is deeply outta sync here, despite the omnipresent "white noise" and background elevator Muzak that complement a fine, diabolical set of performances. These cool neurotic guys and gals can do anything -- except go outside: Like Sartre's "No Exit," Beckett's "Godot" and the Eagles' "Hotel California," they can check out but never leave.

Uniquely, stylishly, humorously directed by Gary Burns, "waydowntown" is real, unreal and surreal at once -- allegorical, phantasmagorical and all other "goricals": a nice, novel, nasty slice of 21st-century angst.

P.S. If you need any additional reason, impetus or nudge to see "waydowntown," let me give it to you: Its first-run local premiere is taking place at the lovely old Oaks Theater on Allegheny River Boulevard in Oakmont -- the kickoff for an ambitious new programming effort there. Have you been to the Oaks lately? Since the Eisenhower Administration? Ever? Do yourself a favor and check out one of the area's most charming, nostalgic, small-town venues along with the movie.

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