Man of the Century

A sweet meeting of the '20s and '90s.

IN THE MANNER of every Saturday Night Live-related film from The Blues Brothers to Superstar, this comedy spins its jokes from a single character-driven premise. Call the hero of Adam Abraham's first feature "Anachronism Man." He lives in present-day Manhattan, but he thinks it's the 1920s. Played by square-jawed Gibson Frazier (also the film's co-writer, and a man who looks impressive in a hat), the aptly named Johnny Twennies uses a straight razor, maintains a killer shine on his shoes, and waits with bated breath for new Harold Arlen 78s to show up at his local music store. Everything out of his mouth sounds like a line from a screwball comedy starring W.C. Fields. (Nobody's gonna play him for a sucker, see?)

MAN OF THE CENTURY

directed by Adam Abraham

opens November 26 at Grand Illusion

Working as a columnist for the failing Sun-Telegram, Johnny treats the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new library as if it were the crash of the Hindenburg. When a new owner takes over the paper, Johnny has to come up with a real scoop or else hit the pavement. To add insult to injury, his girlfriend just dumped him because she was tired of waiting to consummate their relationship. (He's not one of those fellas who think they can get fresh with a girl.) Johnny must win her back, while still finding time to teach an art photographer how to shoot like a newspaperman, protect an aspiring opera singer from the clutches of an unscrupulous maestro, and thwart his mother's plans to marry him off to an heiress.

LOVINGLY SHOT in black and white, the film concludes with a merry, Thin Man-like rendezvous of all the characters in Mrs. Twennies' swanky Park Avenue mansion (a peach of a doozy of a time). Surprisingly, this feather-light diversion won the Audience Feature Award at the "alternative" Slamdance Film Festival. Unlike the makers of those countless SNL spin-offs, Abraham and Frazier acknowledge the limits of their premise, wrapping things up in under 80 minutes.

The movie's other main asset is its cast, drawn from both indie film and Broadway musicals: Dwight Ewell (the black militant cartoonist from Chasing Amy) appears in a small but pivotal role; elegant crooner Bobby Short turns up as a bathroom attendant; and Brian Davies, the very first Rolf Gruber in The Sound of Music, plays the music-store owner. They're all game for whatever silliness comes their way, making Man of the Century a swell romp from two smart-aleck kids with a boatload of moxie.

 
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