Review: The Do-Deca-Pentathlon
PLOT: Two middle-aged brothers relive their childhood with an immature competition to see who is the better athlete.
REVIEW: THE DO-DECA-PENTATHLON is the fifth feature from the brothers Duplass, who broke out onto the indie scene several years ago with THE PUFFY CHAIR and BAGHEAD, low-low-budget comedies with amateur thespians and semi-improvised dialogue that helped inspire the term “mumblecore.” Since then, they've moved on to projects featuring more name-recognition: CYRUS, starring John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill, and JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, released earlier this year with names like Ed Helms and Jason Segal in the cast.
DO-DECA finds the Duplass boys harkening back to their roots: it's a low-tech effort that looks like it could have been shot over the course of a week, with friends doing most of the work in front of, and behind, the camera. This would be an immense drawback usually (with the advancement of digital cameras in the last few years, even micro-budget indies can look professionally made), but the Duplass brothers have made a movie with a sneaky amount of charm and an adequate accumulation of laughs, so you're able to look past its ugly exterior.
The plot is actually something one could imagine being nested in an A-list Hollywood comedy, perhaps with Will Ferrell and/or Adam Sandler: After years of bitter estrangement, two brothers – Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly) – reunite under uncomfortable circumstances for the former's birthday at their childhood home. Mark is a schlubby, sad-eyed salesman looking down the barrel of eternal lameness, despite the fact that he has a lovely wife (Jennifer Lafleur) and son (Reid Williams). Jeremy is a brash professional gambler who brings to mind every loudmouth jerk in the schoolyard who uses his annoyance like a knife to strip you of your patience and security. These two are brothers in-name-only, and though their mom (Julie Vorus) feels that maternal pang of joy to see them together again after so long, even she knows that it's a combustible mix.
The directors present their set-up with a minimum of exposition; we don't know exactly what has happened between the brothers, but seeing their personalities at work and considering their general ways of life, it's not hard to see why they'd be distant. It wouldn't take a detective to surmise that Jeremy has been the cause of most of the turmoil – Mark Kelly gives him the slimy bravado of a bully – and he's just itching to get things started all over again. Being a gambler as well as a prick, it's his idea to reenact a significant event from the brothers' early years: The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, a homemade Olympics of 25 mostly-harmless events designed to determine who is “the ultimate champion.” Activities like ping pong, arm-wrestling , push-ups, etc. The boys couldn't figure out the champion when they were kids (mom got fed up and made them agree it was a tie), so after much goading, Jeremy gets Mark to agree to compete in the Do-Deca again after all these years... of course, behind the backs of the disapproving wife and mother.
The Duplass brothers don't have much up their sleeves when it comes to surprises; the story follows a direction that you more or less expect it to: the brothers ultimately bond over the petty competition as the spirits of their immature former selves reawaken and their issues seem rather insignificant. But what the film does contain is an easy vibe of reality in lieu of slapstick; even though at its heart DO-DECA contains a plainly farfetched scenario, the film doesn't strive for outlandish sight gags or juvenile farce. Had this been a vehicle for Will Ferrell or the like, there would be pratfalls and potty humor galore, the situation so easily lending itself to ridiculousness. It's refreshing to see DO-DECA choose not to take this direction.
What makes the movie work are the two leads: Zissis is anything but a typical leading man, but that unexceptional exterior of his is his ace card: the actor engages you with his complete normalcy. Meanwhile, Kelly gives us much more to look at with Jeremy than initially meets the eye; the character begins the film as an insufferable jackass, but we soon learn that he's hiding some interesting traits.
If there's a complaint to level against THE DO-DECA-PENTATHLON, it's that it doesn't leave a strong impression after you've left your seat. One of those movies that holds your attention from start to finish, but you'll be hard-pressed to quote a single memorable line or recall a particularly remarkable sequence. It's enjoyable, but that's about it. And, I suppose, that's enough.
|Extra Tidbit:||THE DO-DECA-PENTATHLON opens in limited release JULY 6th.|