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Film review: Are we there yet? 'Talent' too long

Published: Friday, Oct. 14 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

THE TALENT GIVEN US — * 1/2 — Allen Wagner, Judy Wagner, Emily Wagner, not rated, probable R (profanity, vulgarity, sex, drugs)

Watching "The Talent Given Us" is a lot like spending time cooped up with members of your family in a vehicle on a cross-country trip. It's uncomfortable and unpleasant.

This is not a documentary, though it has been shot that way. Instead, writer/director Andrew Wagner has contrived a tale about the members of his family coming to see him, driving a van from New York to California. And his family members — only two of whom are professional actors — play themselves.

Give them points for bravery, or perhaps subtract points for foolhardiness, because so much of the film seems to be about painting them in the least-flattering manner. At times each family member launches into a tirade about their various neuroses and sexual peccadillos — in startling detail.

Most of this fictional story revolves around Wagner's retiree parents, Allen and Judy. Allen has been suffering from a variety of health problems, but worry-wart Judy still insists that they go see Andrew, whom the two haven't heard from in awhile.

So Allen buys a van and drives most of the way. The two are also joined by their adult daughters, Maggie and Emily. The latter is an actress who just flew in from California, and she isn't too thrilled about driving all the way to the West Coast with her bickering parents.

It's clear that Wagner is trying to re-create the squirmy, embarrassing feel of the HBO television sitcoms "Curb Your Enthusiasm." However, this film is three times longer than your average sitcom episode, which is way too long for this kind of material.

It doesn't help that his family is made out to be caricatures instead of characters. Maybe Andrew Wagner was hoping they would be endearingly human, but instead they come off as annoying, hardly the type of people we want to be stuck with for an hour and a half.

"The Talent Given Us" is not rated but would probably receive an R for frequent use of strong sexual profanity, crude sex talk and other vulgar references and slang terms, simulated sex and other sexual contact, and some drug content (references and use of a hypodermic needle). Running time: 97 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com