Death by 101 Minutes

Rambling narrative runs audience’s threshold for viewer seating pain

teapot Death by 101 MinutesDating since high school, two cute young newlyweds find that marriage in troubled economic times can’t survive solely on love and unemployment checks. Alice (Juno Temple) is smart but can’t get a job. John (Michael Angarano) is fired from his dead-end job selling computer warranties for a boss whose motto is “productivity, performance and punctuality”—all of which John is very bad at. They’re so broke they even go to a string of boring parties because the booze is free. But just when it looks like the only way they can pay their bills is to rob a bank, Alice wanders into an antique shop, spies a brass teapot that looks like it once belonged to Ali Baba and steals it. Every time she accidentally hurts herself, the magic pot produces hundred-dollar bills. It doesn’t take long for Alice and John to get the hang of what pain can do to turn them solvent. As long as they don’t run out of ideas for increasing the pain, their problems are over. Or are they just beginning? This is the wacky premise of The Brass Teapot.

The first part of this tepid little cartoon of a movie centers on the imaginative ways scriptwriter Tim Macy dreams up for John and Alice to injure themselves. For their get-rich-quick scheme to pay off, burned hands, tattoos and bandaged foreheads are not enough. Their greedy lust for a bigger cash flow leads to belt flogging, broken bones and worse. Alice goes to a salon and asks to have her pubic hairs ripped out, one by one. John goes through dental surgery without novocaine. They turn nouveau riche, buy a mansion, throw lavish functions, drive expensive cars and buy their own vodka label. But when the “ouch” factor wears out its welcome, the teapot starts branching out on its own, doubling the jackpot when its owners inflict discomfort on others. And that’s not all. It starts responding to emotional pain, too. Heartbreak breaks the bank. As the stakes increase, they realize they’d better stop before they get to murder. But here’s the rub. The pot, which dates back to the crucifixion and promises “unsavory consequences” to anyone who owns it, is indestructible. The second half of the movie is about the couple’s efforts to solve their dilemma. The result is a macabre exercise in sadomasochism that is less amusing than it sounds.

The two loopy, addled stars are attractive and nearly naked most of the time. (Juno Temple, who did wonders for the despicable Killer Joe, still looks good in a bra.) But the cautionary morality tale first-time director Ramaa Mosley wants to tell is a long time coming. To pad out a 30-minute premise to 101 minutes of playing time, the movie runs out of whimsy faster than you can say Tim Burton, and the contrived finale is more excruciating than the rest of the movie’s tortures put together. Far from the offbeat satire on the American dream gone sour it aims to be, The Brass Teapot is more like a dark flirtation with the American nightmare that backfires.

rreed@observer.com

THE BRASS TEAPOT

Running Time 101 minutes

Written by Tim Macy

Directed by Ramaa Mosley

Starring Juno Temple, Michael Angarano and Alexis Bledel

2/4 Stars