Movie review: ‘The Scenesters’

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

You don’t have to be a Silver Lake hipster or film-school student to get the references in this genre mash-up, a substanceless murder mystery set among the aspiring filmmakers and struggling musicians of northeastern Los Angeles. “The Scenesters” revels in winks about the city and the indie film biz, yet its surface-level blend of noir, vérité and “CSI” forensics is usually engaging.

Setting the tone of affectionate mockery is the faux trailer that opens the movie, a spot-on sendup of mumblecore navel gazing. The preview is for a film by Wallace Cotten, a self-serious young auteur who’s well played by writer-director Todd Berger. Through his gig as a videographer for the LAPD, Wallace crosses paths with Charlie Newton (Blaise Miller), a singer-songwriter and crime-scene cleanup technician. Charlie, whom Miller invests with a low-key spark beyond the merely relatable, catches details the self-involved police investigators miss, signs that point to a serial killer.

Wallace and his smug-without-reason producer (Jeff Grace) embark on a docu-thriller about Charlie, complete with black and white cinematography, voice-over narration and fedora, all while withholding evidence from the clueless cops. Sherilyn Fenn’s prosecutor ( John Landis cameos as the judge) interrogates the characters after the main events, guiding the story and, more to the point, prompting a number of films-within-the-film: a making-of, a music video, a training video and surveillance video. Audiences will shrug at the mystery’s solution but likely will be eager to see what Berger & Co. do next.

“The Scenesters.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Playing at the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.