Rami Malek headlines weird but rewarding ‘Buster’s Mal Heart’
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“Buster’s Mal Heart” is an intensely weird film, at times difficult to sort out and process, much less understand.
See it anyway. See it for those reasons. Writer and director Sarah Adina Smith’s vision is so confident, so sure, that it’s worth trusting her to see where the story goes. Plus, you get Rami Malek at no extra charge.
He’s Buster, who is at times in the movie a raving Spanish-speaking hermit adrift in a boat at sea, a survivalist sort living in the empty vacation homes he breaks into in the winter and a hotel clerk trying (without much success) to support his wife and daughter.
Smith moves from one version to the next, as we see how one aspect of the character may lead to another. Or maybe doesn’t.
In what seems to be the beginning of the story, Buster is the hotel manager, working the night shift. He’s married to Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil), a former addict who got clean through religion; along with their young daughter they live with her parents. Her mother (the great Lin Shaye) harps constantly on Buster, and calls a goofy cartoon character on TV “pornographic.”
Buster dotes on his family but his in-laws grate on him. He’s also tired of working the night shift alone. It’s then that a drifter calling himself the last free man (DJ Qualls) shows up, spouting theories about being part of the machine and how he is a kind of exterminator who has to fix glitches — basically a light sci-fi version of how The Man is keeping us down, man.
Buster, of course, is highly susceptible to this line of thinking, since he feels trapped in every aspect of his life. He’s also watching crazy late-night TV shows in which cable-access lunatics rant about “The Inversion,” which seems to involve a time-space event that includes descriptions of the universe as a rather more straightforward version of the human digestive system.
We go back and forth from this to Buster’s roaming the Montana woods, breaking into houses, making himself at home, cleaning up except for occasionally leaving his mark, you might say. He also calls in to talk-radio shows to rant about The Inversion, and it’s the shows that have given him the nickname Buster. The hosts love him, oblivious to the content of his ravings except to enjoy the ratings he provides.
We also occasionally visit the lost-at-sea Buster. He curses God and drinks his own urine. A plague of frogs proves useful.
Malek, so good in “Mr. Robot,” balances all of the aspects of the character, making what could be jarring transitions much smoother. He’s really fun to watch.
The film opens with a scene of Buster running from police through the snowy mountains, so we know we’ll be going back there again. And so we do, and then go somewhere else entirely. It’s a tricky journey, but it’s one worth taking.
Bill Goodykoontz, USA TODAY Network
Well Go USA presents a film written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith. Running time: 96 minutes. Available on demand and opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.