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Review: The dusted-off comedy ‘Chief Zabu’ falls flat, even with a politically ambitious N.Y. developer

‘Chief Zabu’
Zach Norman, left, and Allen Garfield in the movie “Chief Zabu.”
(NADCO)

Taking the 2016 presidential race as a sign, Zack Norman and Neil Cohen elected to finally put the finishing touches on their never-completed 1986 comedy about a New York real estate developer with lofty political ambitions.

As it turns out, the resulting “Chief Zabu” may have been buried for the past three decades, but this tiresomely talky would-be satire is no treasure.

Having aspirations of being the sort of guy who gets to see his name on hospitals and “have opinions on issues,” Manhattan realtor Ben Sydney (Allen Garfield) seizes what appears to be a golden opportunity when he meets George Dankworth (Allan Arbus).

A well-dressed scam artist, Dankworth sells Sydney on Tiburaku, a South Pacific island nation “about the size of New Jersey,” that’s ripe for resort development.

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But the site proves to be more toxic than exotic after Sydney’s buddy, an aspiring stand-up comic named Sammy Brooks (Norman), discovers that the French government has been testing nuclear weapons in the immediate vicinity.

Notable mainly for gathering together familiar character actors of the era, many of whom, including Arbus, Ed Lauter and Shirley Stoler, have since died, the low-budget effort plays like bargain basement Barry Levinson.

Clocking in at a scant but more than sufficient 74 minutes, the film, co-directed and written by Norman (under his birth name, Howard Zuker) and Cohen, cries out for sharper writing and a stronger technical hand.

Current events aside, it would have been wiser to let sleeping dogs lie.

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‘Chief Zabu’

Rating: R

Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Centre, Santa Monica

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