Review of The Do-Deca-Pentathlon

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In this 2012 film, two brothers compete in their own private 25-event Olympics.
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Movie Review: "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" --

Rating: R (language)
Length: 76 minutes
Release date: July 8, 2012
Directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass
Genre: Comedy
3 out of 5 Stars

The Duplass brothers return to the big screen with their mumblecore tale of intense sibling rivalry, "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon." The story revolves around two incredibly competitive brothers who have been at odds since early childhood, when they created a series of 25 tasks to determine which one of them was the best. Long estranged, the brothers reunite in their 30s only to resurrect the games.

The Duplass brothers' first feature film, "The Puffy Chair" was one of the first examples of mumblecore cinema-movies made with extremely low budgets, amateurs in leading roles and loose scripts easily and often edited by the cast as a group. Their later favorites, "Cyrus" and "Larry, Who Lives Alone" fell back on more popular actors but managed to keep their feel for natural, free-flowing dialogue. In "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" the brothers have returned to a more amateur cast and kept the focus centered on normal people doing normal things in anything-but-normal ways.

The rivalry between the movie's brothers, Jeremy (Mark Kelly, "Prototype") and Mark (Steve Zissis, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home"), quickly escalates to rubber room antics. Though many in the audience will relate to the characters' need to prove themselves against a sibling, few would go to such lengths or pursue the goal with a sliver of their seriousness. The comedy leaves audiences rolling and silently reevaluating their own moments of sibling-induced insanity.

Caught in the mix are the boys' family, notably their mother, Alice (Julie Vorus, in her debut role on the big screen) and Mark's wife, Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur, "Feed the Fish"). The brothers struggle to complete each trial in private, which grows increasingly difficult as the movie progresses. As we watch things unfold, the feminine forces of the film combine to keep the brothers from seriously injuring themselves.

The small cast used in "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" is representative of both mumblecore and the Duplass brothers' first films. Made up mainly of friends, it has the distinct air of being a collaboration between them all. Granted, they're known for allowing actors the freedom to change their own lines or adlib full scenes. Artistic expression may have its trade-offs however, as this latest foray isn't half as tight or powerful as their recent, more commercial releases. Still, the flow has enough momentum to keep the audience from boredom, and the script has enough hilarity to keep audiences guessing what the brothers could possibly attempt next.

The film's cinematography makes no excuses for its unpolished charm and includes a variety of quick close-ups, blurred scenes and odd angles that in some instances convey the brothers' emotional discord and in others help spur the audiences' anxiety. Nothing about the film hails back to Hollywood, other than a killer soundtrack featuring artists as eccentric as the actors collected for the cast.

Kelly and Zissis couldn't be more suited to their roles. The chemistry the two share as estranged siblings still trying to outdo one another seeps onto the screen from every pour. The smugness emanating from Kelly's Jeremy would drive any younger brother to extremes, though the effects might not have been as maniacal in real life as Zissis played onscreen. The support he pulls for Mark from the audience is nothing short of miraculous.

As it turns out, middle-aged men are no match for the challenges presented by the Do-Deca- Pentathlon. Hilarity is easily found in the movie pointing out the obvious and reiterating a common thread among guy-centric features-that growing up is not only inevitable but, sadly, necessary. As audiences anticipate, the brothers wind up unraveling a good deal of frustration and coming to terms with the issues at the heart of their decades-long feud. Ultimately, they come to the conclusion that neither is the victor if they continue judging themselves against one another. Both men realize they must come to grips with their own insecurities or remain losers forever.

As a follow-up to 2011's "Larry, Who Lives Alone" or to 2010's "Cyrus," the Duplass brothers' latest film falls just short of mainstream expectations. Audiences who ate up their corporate-controlled, star-laden productions may feel a little lost while rambling along with the plot of "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon." The freedom handed to actors and staff reflects in a free-form performance that tests your patience at times. However, fans of their first features will absolutely adore the filmmakers' return to truly independent cinema.