On the Road with Judas

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Behold the curse of independent film: the self-referential insufferable wankfest. “On the Road with Judas,” written and directed by JJ Lask, is about a man named JJ Lask who has written a novel that has been made into a movie. The fictional characters from the book (who exist only in Lask’s head, of course) appear on a talk show (which is also only in Lask’s head), as do the actors hired to play them. As they discuss the film, they also retell the story, which we see in flashbacks — sometimes as scenes from the movie, and sometimes as actual flashbacks, featuring the “real” people, not the actors.

Yes, it is confusing, but that’s not the main problem with “On the Road with Judas.” The problem is that with all the meta-references and Charlie Kaufman-style fourth-wall-breaking, something has been omitted: a plot. The actual story — the one in the novel, the one being turned into a movie, the one the actors are re-creating — is almost non-existent. A guy named Judas meets a girl named Serra; they keep running into each other; they have a flat, introspective, uneventful relationship; the end. It’s not engaging, regardless of whether we’re seeing it played by actors, or whether we’re seeing it as the “real” people experienced it.

There are details that could have led to intriguing developments, but they get lost in the shuffle. For example, in the novel, Judas (Aaron Ruell) and Francis (Alex Burns) were best friends who also operated as thieves, stealing old Macintosh computers from colleges. Judas had some success as a New York entrepreneur, too, and now Francis is in prison because he refused to rat out his buddy. Both characters are interviewed extensively, Judas on the set of the “Let’s Do Drinks” talk show, and Francis in prison.

Then “Let’s Do Drinks” brings on the actors who have been hired to play these characters — Eddie Kaye Thomas as Judas, and Leo Fitzpatrick as Francis. We also meet both the “real” Serra (Eleanor Hutchins) and the actress playing her in the film, Amanda Loncar. We see the “real” people sitting next to the actors who will portray them, and we almost forget, for a minute, that NONE of it is actually real. Trippy, huh?

Unfortunately, all of the characters, both real and fictional, are uninteresting. They have the dull, navel-gazing crises typical of 20-somethings in movies, and they fail to elicit any sympathy or devotion from the viewer.

It seems that Lask was hoping his movie could get by on cuteness alone, that we’d be so dazzled by his self-awareness and the intricately mind-bending premise that we wouldn’t notice how empty it all is. This is the kind of movie where the filmmaker believes he’s being clever and postmodern by explicitly mentioning how meandering and plot-free the story is. But guess what, Hector: Acknowledging the fact that you’re a tedious, self-indulgent storyteller doesn’t excuse the fact that you’re a tedious, self-indulgent storyteller.

D (1 hr., 40 min.; Not Rated, probably R for nude photos and a lot of harsh profanity.)