If Prince Siddhartha (aka Buddha) had lived long enough to experience the hard-boiled detective films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, he might have ventured a similar pearl of wisdom and spared audiences the ordeal of “Zen Noir,” an overblown student film so blinded by self-importance that its threadbare 71-minute running time drags along like open-mike night at a club for deaf-mutes.
Shot in 2004 by first-time writer/director Marc Rosenbush (an artiste with the temerity to award himself both a producer and an executive producer credit), “Zen Noir” is a one-note indulgence made for what appears to have been about a buck and a quarter. Duane Sharp stars as “The Detective,” a would-be Sam Spade whose investigation into a murder at a Buddhist temple opens up a bizarre and surreal world of existential self-reflection.
Pretentious twaddle of this sort is offensive enough when done well. But the almost total absence of production value -- the “temple” in which the entire thing takes place is little more than a sparsely dressed stage -- makes this particular offense especially egregious.
Not that genre-splicing hack jobs like “Zen Noir” are anything new -- those that are done well usually star Bruce Campbell (see “Bubba Ho-Tep”) and aim more for laughs than meaning. But Rosenbush doesn't really seem to know what he's going for -- the neo-noir narration is just ridiculous enough to almost qualify for a laugh when the film takes an abrupt left turn into Japanese ghost film territory and winds up making absolutely no sense at all.
On the other hand, someone obviously liked the film well enough for it to earn an array of awards at a variety of irrelevant film festivals where just being odd and cheap is usually enough to get the midnight movie crowd all hot and frothy.
May they froth to their hearts content…and far away from the rest of us. Starring Duane Sharp, Kim Chan, Debra Miller, Ezra Buzzington, Jennifer Siebel and Howard Fong. Directed and written by Marc Rosenbush. Produced by Marc Rosenbush, Frank Crim & Erika Gardner. A Magic Lantern release. Mystery. Not rated. Running time: 71 min.