Here's another entry in the Good Sundance Movies with Rotten Titles category: Pretty Bird. The directorial debut of Paul Schneider (he wrote All the Real Girls and acted in movies like Elizabethtown, The Family Stone and The Assassination of Jesse James), Pretty Bird has nothing to do with birds. The closest the film comes to "birds" is the jet-propelled "rocket belt" that causes all sorts of problems for everyone involved. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Curtis Prentiss (Billy Crudup) is one hell of a schmoozer. He may not have many talents -- heck, he's not even all that smart -- but Curtis does have some very strong social skills -- and he seems like he could easily sell ice cubes to an Eskimo if he had to. Prentiss pops in to visit an old college friend named Kenny (the excellent David Hornsby), who is more than happy to invest in Curtis latest venture: a rocket belt. Kenny throws a whole lot of cash Curtis' way, and then the duo decides that they need an actual engineer to get this project "off the ground" -- and to that end they hire an out-of-work (and hot-tempered) rocket expert named Rick Honeycutt (the hilarious Paul Giamatti).
At first, the big challenge is getting the rocket belt to work, but once the trio of unlikely partners gets it flying -- that's when the friction really starts to show. Mistrust leads to animosity, which leads to activities like sabotage, unexpected violence, and legal actions. Heck, it starts to feel like the guys' success is some sort of astronomically ironic failure. Schneider's screenplay dabbles in both broad humor and dark comedy, and the three leads seem to be having a lot of fun with this somewhat strange material.
Loosely based on actual events, Pretty Bird is a darkly amusing look at the American Dream -- and the personal shortcomings we'll gladly endure (or ignore) in the pursuit of said dream. Curtis is never once bothered by the fact that he's (always) in over his head, Rick jumps into the project with both feet -- despite the fact that both of his partners are clearly clueless, and Kenny is simply working under the spell of Curtis Prentiss. His affection for Prentiss manages to blind Kenny to even the most obvious of clues.
Needless to say, things don't exactly end well. Indeed, the film makes a slightly disconcerting tonal shift in its last fifteen minutes that might throw some viewers for a loop, but at least you'll never say that the ending of Pretty Bird (or whatever its distributor ends up calling it) is pat, obvious, or predictable. Worth seeing for Crudup, Giamatti, and Hornsby alone, the film also does a fine job of deflating a capitalist system that allows any old moron to make a quick buck. Toss in a typically amusing supporting turn from Kristen Wiig, and a few really unexpected plot contortions, and you've got a fine indie flick that's definitely worth a look.
But it's Crudup's unusually funny performance that really buoys this odd little movie. This Hornsby kid is a keeper. And Paul Giamatti is ... heck, he's Giamatti. He's awesome.