Bickford Shmeckler’s Cool Ideas

As a screenwriter, if you want to get right to the point, you give your characters names that telegraph their personalities. Fat women are named Bertha; nerds are named Marvin; middle-aged moms are named Susan or Debbie; average joes are named Dave (and, yes, occasionally Joe).

The protagonist in “Bickford Shmeckler’s Cool Ideas” is, of course, a super-smart, socially awkward geek, and in this uneven comedy about him, he has written a very brainy treatise on quantum physics that he calls a “unified theory of everything.” (Think Stephen Hawking, then take away some of the brilliance.) When the book goes missing, evidently taken by a gorgeous girl named Sarah (Olivia Wilde) during a toga party hosted by his roommates, Bickford (Patrick Fugit) flies into a panic.

There’s your movie right there: life’s work stolen; protagonist must reclaim it (or, in a more complex film, come to realize he doesn’t need it). “Cool Ideas” tries to go further, though. It reunites Bickford with his precious book in the second act; act three then flounders without a conflict as Bickford learns Important Lessons About Life (including the one where you shouldn’t over-think everything).

The frustrations Bickford faces in finding his lost book are many. A deranged janitor (Matthew Lillard) says he found the book in the garbage, but he won’t give it up until Bickford helps him quiet the alien voices in his head. Somehow the book’s now-anonymous text makes its way to a Dungeons & Dragons geek squad in the back of a comic book shop, where they worship its brilliance and publish its tenets among the students like religious tracts. Soon Bickford Schmeckler’s cool ideas are all the rage on campus — except that no one knows who wrote them, and Bickford is too caught up in his search to realize the annoying pamphlet he keeps seeing is actually his work.

There is some fun to be had in all of this, and Patrick Fugit is almost always an enjoyable actor to watch. Bickford has a troubled past and a high-anxiety present, but Fugit plays him with enough of a light touch that he comes as across as more funny than sad, an endearing mess of a guy.

And as a side note, writer/director Scott Lew and cinematographer Lowell Peterson shot the film in high-definition digital video, and it looks fantastically clear and crisp, with vivid, rich colors.

But there is too much ambivalence in the movie’s last section, particularly with the Bickford/Sarah relationship (they become close in the course of his search for the book that she stole and lost). Like Hamlet, Bickford spends an inordinate amount of time inside himself, fretting over his ideas, fretting over his interpersonal relationships, and fretting over how much he frets. The consequence is that the film’s early momentum wears off, and we realize the movie’s not as amusing or entertaining as it wants to be, nor are Bickford’s cool ideas actually all that cool.

C+ (1 hr., 30 min.; R, some harsh profanity, some vulgarity, some partial nudity.)