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Review: 'Awful Nice' leads make up for its shortcomings

Like a take-it-outside scrape between two once-friendly drunks, the sibling rivalry comedy "Awful Nice" has a kind of bro-logic fascination embedded in its rambunctious male humor. How does a bonding moment turn sour? When is an insult a compliment too? Is there a smidgen of love accompanying that swing to the head?

This is not to say that writer-director Todd Sklar's loose, unkempt tale of two long-incommunicado brothers on a disastrous trip to claim their dead father's inheritance is some model of broken-relations satire. It's a series of tense, silly and occasionally cruel exchanges between exasperated family guy Jim (James Pumphrey) and motor mouth hedonist Dave (co-writer Alex Rennie) as they plan — but never get around to — fixing up a disused family lake home in Branson, Mo.

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Granted, Sklar's decision to expand an earlier short film to feature length was an idea probably as sketchy as Jim's and Dave's renovation-as-reconciliation scheme. (Why Russian mobsters? Why a mumbly Christopher Meloni in wig and shades?)

But even when bits go thud, there's a brittle, unsentimental wit about kin's inexplicable tug that's hard to ignore, and the leads — game for some surprisingly sublime bits of physical comedy — eventually wear one's anti-charm defenses down.

"Awful Nice." Rated R for language and sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. At Sundance Sunset, West Hollywood.

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