Here Comes Chucky
'Freaks and Geeks' writer's big screen debut eerie but enjoyable
By Ellison Walcott

Have you ever wondered what happened to your childhood playmates? Well don't.

See the film Chuck & Buck and you'll be cured of your nostalgia.

When we first encounter carrot-top, freckle-faced Buck, a 27-year-old overgrown, baby-faced Huey, he is distressed and restless, folding and unfolding his clothes. His bedroom is filled with plastic soldiers and airplanes, all the frills and detritus of an 11-year-old boy. His cigar-smoking dying mother wheezes and coughs in the background. You'll choke on the ambience.

When she dies, all the eccentric Buck has to hold on to are his toys and memories that are augmented by the childlike collage photo art that hangs on his wall. The Spanish Colonial estate in the Santa Barbara area loses its Narnia magic. With no one else in his insular world, he reaches out to his childhood playmate Chuck (Chris Weitz), whom he invites to his mother's funeral.

Although they haven't seen each other in 15 years, Chuck (who now goes by Charlie) feels compelled to attend. When Buck catches sight of Chuck at the funeral, he gives him a big Chucky-doll grin; for the audience, psychotic alarm bells begin to ring.

Chuck is a highly regarded, upwardly mobile music exec. He lives with his fiancée Carlyn (Beth Colt) in Los Angeles. They are polite to a fault and accommodate Buck's childlike nature at the wake, including accepting an invitation to "see his room." Carlyn's nurturing feminine side responds to Buck's wallowing childhood wonderland. Chuck immediately recognizes Buck's fixation on a long lost boyhood and feels more than a bit claustrophobic. Later on, Chuck seems stunned when Buck embraces him and makes sexual advances. This prompts Chuck's quick departure.

Buck packs up his toys and record player and drives to LA. The fact that he can actually drive is astonishing, given his continual pre-adolescent behavior. When he settles into a low-budget motel in the armpit of the city, Buck proceeds to call Chuck incessantly, and drops in on him at work and home in a "Can you come out and play?" fashion. No one can blame Charlie for wanting nothing to do with this pitiful twilight zone stunted man/child, who sucks on blow pops as if they were pacifiers.

Buck is a walking social faux pas. Given many chances to redeem himself, he embarrasses Charlie in front of his friends and coworkers. He has no consciousness of the passage of time and is locked in a suspension of belief that nothing has changed since he was a child.

Mike White, the screenwriter of Chuck & Buck, also portrays the anti-hero. He is not the clichéd Hollywood hunk. He is pale and looks like he should still be wearing a blue blazer and attending prep school. Having served as a writer and producer of both Dawson's Creek and Freaks and Geeks, one might assume that some inglorious days of getting tripped in the cafeteria in his youth have offered a rich vein to mine for his narrative creativity. The film offers a far darker version than his previous credits suggest, and his acting debut is so accurate and honed that the line between fact and fiction seems nebulous.

In a last attempt to win Chuck's affections, Buck writes a play titled Hank and Frank and stages it at a children's theatre conveniently located across the street from Chuck's workplace. He befriends the stage manager, Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros), and asks her to direct, making a financial offer she can't refuse. Her role is key to the film, as is her overall presence in the movie. Her character is balanced enough to know that Buck is outright crazy.

Nonetheless, insanity packaged properly can be interpreted as genius. She takes Buck under her wing and keeps his obsession from plummeting into utter irrational behavior. Buck's personality is repellent enough to keep anything living at arm's distance, but the theatre has always been known for taking in the stray, scruffy oddball. Not surprisingly, Buck's play is successful and he finds his niche.

Chuck & Buck could easily spill over into saccharine sentimentality were it not for the conviction that encounters like these could, and probably, have happened. The gritty veneer of having shot the film in digital video lends further credence to the emotional veracity of the subject matter. If entertainment values include a masochistic streak, then the creepy and disquieting nature of this film scores a direct hit.n

Chuck & Buck was scheduled to start Friday but was postponed just before presstime.