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Review: Offbeat indie ‘Buster’s Mal Heart’ showcases Rami Malek’s gifts

Rami Malek in the film "Buster's Mal Heart."
(Well Go USA)

Rami Malek haunts “Buster’s Mal Heart” like an alien being just getting to know human form. In this finely calibrated indie from writer/director Sarah Adina Smith, the Emmy-winning “Mr. Robot” star is used to disconcertingly good effect, his large, lidded eyes like reservoirs of hope and pain.

If Malek’s role — a mountain man nicknamed Buster who rants about an upcoming apocalyptic Inversion, but who was once a dedicated family man and hotel concierge named Jonah — reminds you of his split-personality TV role, it’s less a glomming-on than a burnishing of the actor’s gift with conveying paralyzing rootlessness.

In the Jonah scenes, Malek is a clean-cut, teetering Lynchian figure, dreaming of a better life for wife Marty (Kate Lyn Shiel) and their toddler daughter, but drawn to a mysterious conspiracy theorist figure (DJ Qualls) who feeds his nagging belief that his fate is mechanistic and predetermined.

As the present-day Buster, nesting in empty vacation houses of the rich, armed and rattled by visions of being stranded at sea, Malek makes for a compellingly warped figure of grief and derangement. Though evocatively photographed (by Shaheen Seth) and laced with dark humor about the ineffectiveness of religion, whether organized or crackpot, Smith’s desire to be twisty and mind-bending often shows. But it’s a confident weirdness that “Buster’s Mal Heart” boasts as it dissects a damaged soul for signs of what’s eternal and what’s triggered when a man breaks in two.

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‘Buster’s Mal Heart’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; and Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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