Self-conscious, tonally uncertain and thematically vague, "The Big Ask" is a premise in search of a movie, one that co-directors Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman never quite find.
This sluggish film involves a Joshua Tree-area getaway for three apparently longtime buddies (character details are sketchy): the morose Andrew (David Krumholtz), antsy Owen (Jason Ritter) and marriage-bound Dave (Zachary Knighton). Joining them at a remote rental house are respective girlfriends Hannah (Melanie Lynskey), Emily (Gillian Jacobs) and Zoe (Ahna O'Reilly), about whom we learn even less than the guys.
Andrew, depressed by his mother's recent death, floats the idea of four-way sex with all three women, alleging he needs a "great wave of love" to ease his pain. What is it, 1969? Not surprisingly, Andrew's outré pitch goes over like stinky cheese.
The group then kills time while grappling with Andrew's request, hoping he'll just let it go. Their question (and ours): Is the guy a manipulator, a mental case or a genuine idealist? Hard to say.
Owen and Dave's stab at quashing Andrew's craving by hiring him a pair of low-rent hookers makes for a particularly lame interlude. Meanwhile, Andrew's bond with a runaway dog oozes clunky symbolism.
Though Andrew's narcissistic proposal may ultimately jump-start some change all around, the results, like much else in Beatty's less-is-less script, feel more simplistic than earned. An actual sense of Andrew's relationship with his late mother could have added much-needed dimensionality to the entire setup.
The actors do what they can with the dubious material, though, to be blunt, a bath towel is not a good look for the roly-poly Krumholtz. French Stewart, Ned Beatty (Thomas' dad) and Dale Dickey pop up as randomly conceived locals.
"The Big Ask."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica. Also on VOD.