Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Waiting Game

By Marc Savlov

APRIL 24, 2000: 

D: Ken Liotti; with Will Arnett, Debbon Ayer, Dwight Ewell, Eddie Malavarca, Terumi Matthews, Michael Raynor, Daniel Riordan. (Not Rated, 85 min.)

Films about actors waiting for their big break ought to be subject to some sort of legal tariff: The more whining about "my big break" there is onscreen, the cheaper the ticket prices ought to go. Something to discourage this sort of ensemble gab-fest, anyway. While The Waiting Game isn't as bad as all that in the short term, in the long run it's just too much ado about nothing. Centered around a co-ed group of waiters working in an off-Broadway Manhattan bistro with the odd moniker of Peter's Backyard, the film plays like a Woody Allen ensemble piece minus the Jewish theatrics. There are plenty of neuroses to go around, though, and actors-in-waiting have always provided a fertile ground for this sort of bitchy good humor. Amongst the crew here are Lenny (Arnett), a bitter lifer in the acting game, prone to quoting Jack Nicholson and equally prone to various stormy temper tantrums. Lenny, sporting a lengthy mane of hair and a sad little headshot that you just know is going to get him absolutely nowhere near a stage, is seeing Merris (Ayer), a non-acting career woman on Wall Street who sometimes seems like the only (semi-)sane one in the bunch. There's also the leggy Andi (Matthews), Lenny's partner in crime and wisecracks, as well as Dan (Riordan), a guy who's clearly not cut out for the high-stress world of the restaurant biz or showbiz, and Derek and Joe (Malavarca, Ewell), the former convinced he might be gay and the latter, well, gay. Auditions abound, as do sexual hijinks and the usual off-Broadway goings on. There's not much to The Waiting Game, in fact, that doesn't fall into the stereotypical, from Joe's occasionally mincing sexuality to Merris and Lenny's stuttering relationship run aground. What saves the film from being a total loss is Liotti and Kirk Lavine's script, peppered with a knowing bitchiness that rings true even when it seems to go on and on and on. (The characters aren't the only ones waiting here.) The exchanges between Lenny and his co-workers have the ring of truth to them; clearly, if some of these people don't get either a break or a week in Jamaica (and not the one in Queens, either), they're going to pop like a well-shook champagne bottle. While there's nothing groundbreaking in Liotti's direction, he manages to handle the extensive ensemble cast well enough so that the proceedings never fully bog down into full-scale torpor, either. Liotti says in the press materials that he modeled the film on "his days as a bartender at the original T.G.I. Friday's," survival of which is reason enough to like the guy no matter what sort of first feature he's turned out. There's nothing revelatory about The Waiting Game (Arnett and Matthews come close, though), but as a way to kill some downtime between dinner at 21 and that all-important final Cats curtain, you could do worse.

2 Stars

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