Rhinoceros Eyes

“Rhinoceros Eyes” would have made a great short film, and ought to have been one. It has characters who are quirky but ultimately flat, a whacked-out premise that can’t sustain itself for 90 minutes, and a few cool ideas. Trim this sucker down to 20 minutes, enter it in a film festival, and watch the plaudits come rolling in!

Alas, in its full-length form, it reeks of film-school, “Donnie Darko”-inspired weirdness. It’s the sort of movie that would be pretentious if it were smart enough to figure out how.

Chep (Michael Pitt) is a man in his early 20s, mildly slow and socially awkward. He works in a Hollywood prop shop, and lives there, too, amongst the Egyptian talismans, Shakespearean goblets and other movie-magic detritus. His young, vulgar bosses, Bundy (Matt Servitto) and Hamish (James Allodi), like his work ethic and keep trying to get him to go out for drinks with them, generally to no avail. The only time he ever leaves the shop is to go to the movies, always to see a turgid romantic drama called “The Sweltering Squaddee” (which reminds me, probably intentionally, of “The English Patient”).

Then, of course, the props start talking to him. They don’t tell him to do anything terrible, at least not at first, but they do talk to him, and Chep is mildly disturbed. But he is interrupted in his disturbedness by a customer. A woman named Fran (Paige Turco), working on a nearby movie set, needs a pair of rhinoceros eyes. The next day, she needs a wooden prosthetic arm. Chep is smitten with her and will do anything to find — or, if they don’t have them, to obtain — these items. Slowly, he loses touch with reality.

The mood here is more whimsical, even mystical, than funny (though Bundy and Hamish do have some amusing exchanges) — but it’s so obtuse and deliberately offbeat that you can feel writer/director Aaron Woodley straining to make it that way. Throw in an ambiguous, odd ending and you have a film experience that is proficient but unsatisfying. Pity, because Pitt’s performance is good, even nuanced — far better than this faux-artsy claptrap deserves.

C (1 hr., 31 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity, brief strong sexuality, a bit of nudity.)