Maurice LaMarche in Murder, Anyone? (Photos: Sandaled Kid Productions)

By Matt Brunson

★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY James Cullen Bressack
STARS Kristos Andrews, Galadriel Stineman

It’s murder most foul in Murder, Anyone?, a comedic work that borrows from the art vs. commerce argument and converts it into stage vs. cinema.

Directed by James Cullen Bressack from a script written by his late father, Gordon Bressack (a three-time Emmy winner for his work on the animated shows Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs), this centers on friends and colleagues George (Maurice LaMarche) and Charlie (Charles M. Howell IV) as they come together in a small cabin to collaborate on a new script. It’s a murder-mystery (or, more specifically, “an avant-garde, surrealistic, mind-bending neo-noir thriller”), and the pair lob ideas back and forth, some good, some not so good. Yet even as they settle on the general storyline and hammer out the details, they incessantly argue as one of them wants their script produced for the stage since that means more prestige and creative control while the other wants to see it made as a film since that means more money and more exposure.

The scenes with the two writers are filmed in black-and-white, and the films bursts into color whenever it switches to the visualization of the story they’re constructing. It’s indeed a murder yarn, primarily focusing on Bridgette (Galadriel Stineman), a wealthy socialite who’s not as innocent as she initially appears, and Cooper (Kristos Andrews), a mysterious man who might just be a serial killer. Or at least that’s where Bridgette and Cooper end up at various points, as the characters amusingly morph before our very eyes whenever George and Charlie elect to take them in a different direction — Cooper is even played by a different actor in his initial scenes, until it’s decided that he should be younger and hunkier. The genre likewise spills out in different directions, as there’s brief talk that this murder-mystery should also be a horror flick, or maybe a martial arts romp.

Kristos Andrews in Murder, Anyone?

Murder, Anyone? is bright and clever, even if it eventually becomes overstuffed — I could have completely done without the character of the blind, French fortune teller (Carla Collins), and the ending adds more narrative content (including some twists) than the framework can satisfactorily support. But La Marche and Howell enjoy a nice give-and-take chemistry as the two scribes, and the film maintains visual interest despite its compact setting — or maybe because of its compact setting, as backdrops sometimes change on the whims of the writers.

The cast contains a few familiar names and faces, perhaps none more so than Spencer Breslin and Sally Kirkland. Breslin, brother of Abigail (Little Miss Sunshine), was such an awful actor as a child — his credits included such atrocities as The Cat in the Hat and The Kid — that The Stinkers Bad Movie Awards named their prize for bad child actors The Spencer Breslin Award for Worst Performance by a Child. Now 30, he’s just fine in this picture, playing a shifty character who’s decked out in a rabbit suit. And Kirkland is a veteran who has accumulated over 250 film and television credits over a 62-year span, earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination along the way for 1987’s Anna. Now 81, she plays a zombie in Murder, Anyone? That, I did not expect.

(Murder, Anyone? is currently playing the film festival circuit and will expand in the coming months.)

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