Deadpan humor suffuses the first American offering in this spring’s Shooting Gallery series of independent films (check out www.shootinggallery.com), a soft-toned, deliberately lackadaisical first feature from New Jersey native David Maquiling. “Too Much Sleep” betrays the writer-director’s training at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts: it feels very much like a student film–meticulous, mannered and much too precious for its own good. The title is just right: watching it, you feel rather like you might after snoozing for twelve hours or so: you wake befuddled and a little numb, and the feeling usually persists the whole day. “Sleep” revels in creating a hazy, vaguely surrealistic atmosphere, centered on a protagonist who stumbles his way blankly through a series of slightly weird adventures that resemble episodes out of a mild nightmare. It generates a modicum of charm, but ultimately its narrative frailty and all-too-obvious determination to be whimsically odd make it more an interesting curio than a fully satisfying movie.
The hero, if one can call him that, is Jack (Marc Palmieri, who looks a bit like a young Jan-Michael Vincent), a twentysomething New Jersey security guard who still lives with his mother and seems to be perpetually napping, even on the job. While returning home on the bus one morning after finishing his shift, he’s robbed of his (unlicensed) gun by a couple of con-women. The rest of the picture follows him on an odyssey to recover the weapon, which was bequeathed to him by his deceased dad; the journey brings him into touch with a variety of the peculiar characters who inhabit his deceptively straitlaced suburban hometown, as well as with a beautiful young woman named Kate (Nicol Zanzarella), and it reaches its climax when he finally confronts the fellow who now has the pistol. Characteristically, the altercation that results has a goofy tone, especially when Jack employs some plastic children’s toys as weapons against the guy.
Fortunately, the search also prominently features a gnomish know-it-all named Eddie (Pasquale Gaeta), who owns a neighborhood deli but is sufficiently expert on everything to guide Jack on his way and offer advice, solicited and unsolicited, on any matter that might or might not arise. Gaeta is hilarious (and ultimately a bit touching) as the motor-mouthed mentor; it’s not going too far to say that the picture revs up whenever he appears, and stalls when he vanishes again. That’s not to deny that Palmieri evinces a certain gentle charm, but his languid innocence can’t compete with Gaeta’s exuberance.
Maquiling has said that “Too Much Sleep” was inspired by Filipino folk tales, and it’s clearly designed as a fable of maturation in which the still-adolescent Jack finally wakes up, takes charge of his life and at last becomes a man through a series of oddball “heroic” exploits (not so coincidentally centered on retrieving his inheritance from his father). But if it’s a modernized folk tale, it’s certainly a wispy one. On the evidence of the picture, Marquiling certainly has a unique cinematic voice. Whether you’ll enjoy listening to it for a full ninety minutes, though, is rather doubtful.