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Film review: 'Baxter' just a smugly annoying comedy

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Michael Showalter in "Baxter."

IFC Films

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THE BAXTER — * 1/2 — Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Williams; rated PG-13 (vulgarity, profanity, slapstick violence, brief drugs).

The title character of "The Baxter" is Eliot Sherman, an accountant who is so nerdy he makes "Napoleon Dynamite" look cool by comparison. And the film itself is an annoying romantic comedy that makes the "Napoleon" feature look much funnier by comparison.

Clearly the filmmakers are trying to make "The Baxter" look old-fashioned. But there's a modern smugness and superiority that undermines that attempt. And it doesn't help that its low-key approach is just too low-key. At times it almost seems to be dozing.

The film's title comes from a phrase coined by one of the main character's relatives, who uses it to describe too-nice guys — especially when they lose the girl. And that term definitely describes Eliot (Michael Showalter, from the cable-television sketch comedy programs "The State" and "Stella").

He's either too conservative, too shy or too dweebish to win over potential girlfriends. But he gets a chance to change all that when Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks) walks into his office. The daughter of one of Eliot's wealthy clients, Caroline laughs at all his (bad) jokes and they seem to have a lot in common.

Before you know it, their whirlwind courtship quickly turns into an engagement. Unfortunately, Eliot can't stop thinking about Cecil (Michelle Williams), the pretty young temp who's been working as his secretary.

Showalter has no one but himself to blame for this misfire, since he also wrote and directed it. His worst filmmaking decision was to take the lead role. He's more irritating than endearing, and it seems too unbelievable to think that Banks' lively Caroline would be involved with such a fuddy-duddy. (It's certainly not Banks' fault; she was much more believable as a sexpot interested in the nice guy played by Steve Carell in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin.")

Even the supporting cast (which includes some of Showalter's former "State" cohorts) seems uninterested in the material.

"The Baxter" is rated PG-13 for some crude sexual references and humor, scattered use of profanity (mostly religiously based), some slapstick violence (pratfalls) and some brief drug references. Running time: 91 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com