Schizopolis Movie Review

Hovering somewhere among a botched experiment, a sneaky assault on modern-day life and cinema, and the greatest home movie ever made is Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis. Made at the tail end of the indie-film part of Soderbergh's career (which started off with Sex, Lies & Videotape in 1989 and provided diminishing returns afterwards), and right before he banged into the mainstream with Out of Sight in 1998, it has a no-holds-barred kind of frustrated genius to it that, even though it doesn't always provide rewarding viewing, is definitely worth a peek.

As far as the "story" can be described, Soderbergh himself (in his only starring role) plays Fletcher Munson, who works for the L. Ron Hubbard-like New Age prophet T. Azimuth Schwitters (Mike Malone). A pale-faced wage slave, Munson haunts his cubicle, doing nothing, and occasionally nipping off to the office bathroom to masturbate and make funny faces in the mirror. Meanwhile, there's some strange goings on involving bug exterminator Elmo Oxygen (David Jensen), who darts about the city in his jumpsuit and goggles, romancing housewives and speaking entirely in seemingly randomly-generated, Rorschach-blot dialogue ("nose army ... throbbing dust generation ... beef diaper"). Then, Soderbergh shows up playing the other major character, dentist Dr. Jeffrey Korchek, who, to be quite honest, isn't nearly as interesting as Munson, who at least gets to write reams of meaningless babble for Schwitters to spout in public. This sideline with Korchek doesn't distract much, though, from Elmo Oxygen's rants, or scenes of office politicking with Munson's co-worker, Nameless Numberhead Man - both hilarious in a Theater of the Absurd sort of way.

Although just about nothing in Schizopolis makes much sense, it never really tries to - though you get the sneaking suspicion occasionally that Soderbergh does actually have more underlying themes and meanings behind the jabber, in the sense that all the randomness of plays by Eugene Ionesco weren't just white-noise, they had something to say about the modern condition. Thus, when in the latter parts of Schizopolis, Munson engages in the same conversations with his wife (played by Soderbergh's real ex-wife, Betsy Brantley) that we saw earlier in the film, only this time Munson's dialogue is dubbed in several foreign languages, it could be seen as yet another commentary on the difficulty of communication in the modern world. It's also quite hilarious and more than a little jarring; which could be said about the film is general.

Fortunately, although Schizopolis is quite definitely on the experimental end of things (with the "E" capitalized and underlined three times), it doesn't have nearly the amount of pretense that Soderbergh's similarly-random, celebrity-choked 2002 effort, Full Frontal, had in spades. There's a goofy sense of fun here that Soderbergh rarely exhibits in his often cold and emotionally null films, as well as a real sense of suburban-drone desperation.

Schizopolis at first has the feel of a tweaked masterpiece along the lines of Waking Life, but although it ends up as a moderately funny and seriously skewed anti-film (whatever the hell that means), that doesn't make it worthless. Or does it? Beef diaper.

The DVD release of the film is in a faultless package by Criterion, which includes deleted scenes (titled "Maximum Busy Muscle," of course), theatrical trailer, and two audio commentaries, the first one featuring Soderbergh interviewing himself, and the second with producer John Hardy, sound mixer Paul Ledford and two actors, Mike Malone and David Jensen.


Schizopolis Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 1996


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