At first look, this seems like pretty standard fare: another coming-of-age story in which an appealing, big-eyed innocent survives a comic nightmare and manages to cast off the last vestiges of adolescence. But writer-director Maquiling has a keener eye than most rookie moviemakers and a precocious grasp of the absurdities and ambiguities of adult life. So Jack's odyssey, despite some clunky writing and predictable first-movie missteps, gives off a flavor and flair that stick with you. The quality should come as no surprise. Sleep is the third film in the current Shooting Gallery series, an award-winning annual selection of indie features that has previously given a boost to gems like Croupier and A Time for Drunken Horses.
The attractions of Too Much Sleep are certainly not its production values, which are a click or two above student-film level, or Maquiling's time-weary take on the spiritual emptiness of suburbia. His real talent seems to lie in throwing oddball characters at us without fear. While on the hunt for his gun and himself, our baffled Jack meets plenty of them -- a wild-eyed racquetball nut (Jon Langione) with some strange ideas about massage, an unhappy male nurse (Stan Carp) who calmly holds forth on how to kill patients in their hospital beds, and a leather-clad dancer at a beefcake joint (R.G. Rader) who thrashes our hero half to death in the parking lot, then sweetly apologizes.
Best of all, Jack's guide and surrogate father is an exuberant goombah called Eddie DeLuca (Pasquale Gaeta), a delicatessen raconteur who gives Jack a lot of wrongheaded advice about how to find his missing gun, comes up with all kinds of rough-hewn life lessons, and regales him -- in a street voice that's a dead ringer for Joe Pesci's -- with an endless stream of outlandish stories about everything from beating up a guy in a Mr. Peanut costume to the recent laser surgery performed on his privates to the time he won a fortune in Vegas, ate a 12-pound lobster for dinner, and spent the night with Doris Day. The contrast between Eddie's bottomless energy and Jack's deadpan, Gen-X bewilderment is one of the things that makes Too Much Sleep work so well.
As for Maquiling, there's no reason not to expect better things from him. A graduate of New York University's film school, he reveals a sharp intelligence and a well-developed wit in this highly entertaining if not exactly original tale.