Director Michael Lehmann, who made a splash with his first film, the blackly comic HEATHERS (1989), then spent the better part of two decades churning out mainstream studio product from HUDSON HAWK (1991) to BECAUSE I SAID SO (2007), makes a bid to regain his cool cred with this smug independent feature about the war between two New Orleans cereal bars.
Owned by hippie burnout Willie Bergeron (Christopher Lloyd) and managed by scruffy hipster Neal Downs (Aaron Stanford), Flakes is a hangout for French Quarter artists, potheads and eccentric cereal buffs like Bruce (Frank Wood), who know that Cheerios used to be Cheeri Oats, that Snap, Crackle and Pop are the old-timers of the Kellogg's brand-support family and that it's hopelessly gauche to drown your crunchy fix in milk. Enter "Banana Republican" Stuart Zeringue IV (Keir O'Donnell), a buttoned-down would-be entrepreneur who suggests that Flakes should franchise and is laughed off the premises by Neal and the gang. But they're not laughing when he opens the shiny, tourist-friendly Original New Flakes across the street. Neal's artist girlfriend – the self-styled "Miss Pussy Katz" (Zooey Deschanel) – wishes he'd spend less time at Flakes and more time on the CD he's been half working on for way too long, even offering to manage Flakes for free for a week so he can concentrate, but Neal would rather wage war on Stuart. The war quickly extends to the home front: Neal, tired of Miss Pussy's well-intentioned nagging, extracts a promise that if he hires her at Flakes, nothing that happens at work will affect their relationship, then hires and fires her in a single breath. It's a Pyrrhic victory: She goes to work for Stuart and the war between ragged integrity and the forces of capitalism is on.
Leaving aside the formulaic screenplay's too-obvious debt to HIGH FIDELITY (2000) and EMPIRE RECORDS (1995), the fact that Miss Pussy and Neal both feel more like sitcom conceits that real characters and are remarkably disagreeable -- pretentious, self-centered, childish and spiteful – makes it hard to care about the outcome of their mean-spirited spat. And while the ghost of a bittersweet "everyone's a sell-out" moral seems to haunt screenwriters Chris Poche and Karey Kirkpatrick's scruffy little romantic fable, it's buried under layers of forced quirkiness. Kudos, though, to longtime supporting player and Louisiana native John McConnell, who just about steals the show as wily lawyer Ashton Hale, and to collector Robb Zenner, who supplied the dazzling array of vintage cereal boxes and enshrined on the walls on Flake. Freakies fans will swoon. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh