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'Closing Escrow'

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The modern American real estate market is ripe for satire: With its cutthroat buyers, duplicitous real estate agents and spec sheets pitching dilapidated properties as "quaint" homes having "great view potential," the real estate industry practically verges on self-parody. That's why "Closing Escrow," the new mockumentary about three sets of prospective home buyers and their respective agents, feels almost superfluous.

Not that you couldn't say the same about such well-satirized targets as regional theater, competitive dog shows and folk music, but somehow in the hands of Christopher Guest and company, "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind" are more than mere spoofs. They're immersion experiences.

"Closing Escrow," by contrast, is a spoof, sometimes a funny one, and sometimes just plain overkill. It's the feature debut of writer-director Armen Kaprelian, a former producer of HGTV's "House Hunters." Kaprelian, who shares directing and writing credit with Kent Llewellyn, admittedly drew much inspiration for the film from his years on the reality show. (Evidently, he drew more than inspiration, as a consortium of real estate agents financed the film.)

Prospective house buyers include attorneys Bobby and Tamika White (Cedric Yarbrough and April Barnett), who set out to find a luxurious loft until an unplanned pregnancy redirects them toward a suburban house. The fact that the Whites are African American affords their politically correct yet racially insensitive agent Hillary (Wendi McLendon-Covey) several opportunities to offend, loudly berating another agent for using the term "plantation shutters" in front of her clients.

Far more agreeable is agent Peter Jacobsen (Bruce Thomas), who represents his upbeat neighbors Mary and Allen Lawton (Colleen Crabtree and Rob Brownstein). As their house-hunting odyssey unravels, however, and Allen changes his mind half a dozen times, it soon becomes clear that what Mary and Allen actually want is a home just like Peter's. As Peter patiently waits for his clients to make up their minds, Mary and Allen pursue a game of subtle one-upmanship with their agent.

In contrast, Realtor No. 3 resorts to guerrilla tactics. Richard Billotti (Ryan Smith) advises his clients Tom and Dawn Ernst (Andrew Friedman and Patty Wortham) that their relationship is to be "a dictatorship, not a democracy," and they'll need to put up with some unorthodox practices if they want him to find their dream house. Dawn is no stranger to unusual maneuvers: She's a literal bunny boiler who stole Tom away from his ex-wife after terrorizing her with a string of dead rabbits. But Richard, who attacks houses with a fire poker in the hopes of forcing their depreciation, is so nutty he makes Dawn look almost sane.

At its best, "Closing Escrow" generates a few good laughs, particularly when Kaprelian allows his actors (many of whom have improv experience) to go off book. The film has a striking reality-TV sheen to it and it makes ample use of a variety of locations.

"Closing Escrow." MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, language, crude humor and incidental smoking. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Playing at the Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 655-4010.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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