While you wait for the deadpan, Lynchian "Entertainment" to sweep its chunks of despair into a pile of something/anything you can actually relish, it still manages to hold your attention, like a roadside wreck so twisted you marvel more at the physics involved than the human cost. Director Rick Alverson's intriguing previous film "The Comedy" wasn't a comedy, intentionally, and "Entertainment" — about a fringe comic's desolate existence — doesn't exactly entertain. (You know, deliberately!) Alverson co-wrote it with outré humorists Tim Heidecker (of Tim & Eric infamy) and star Gregg Turkington, whose real-life stand-up persona Neil Hamburger — a walrus insult comedian in a shabby tux — is the main character's stage alter ego here too.
Their playground is a barren Southwest landscape of prisons, dive bars, cheap motels and ghost towns, with Turkington's lonely, role-playing purveyor of sick jokes growing increasingly alienated and alienating, as we surf the discomfort of life on the road to nowhere. Pit stops for awkward encounters involve the amusing John C. Reilly as a rancher cousin, Michael Cera as a stranger in a men's room, and Amy Seimetz as a vengeful audience member. There's a chic emptiness to "Entertainment," undoubtedly, and anti-comedy constructs that may rub the wrong way, but there's also a spiky intelligence at work too, one that engages through the artifice of disengagement and the illusion of "performance."
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.
MPAA rating: Rated R for language, crude sexual material, a disturbing image and brief drug use.
Playing: Cinefamily and on VOD.