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Review: The comedy ‘Loners’ squanders a good satirical premise and talented actors

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Khary Payton, left, and Melissa Paladino in the movie “Loners.”
(Indie Rights)

The social satire “Loners” begins with a good, barbed premise. After the umpteenth mass shooting by a heavily armed recluse, the government decides that rather than tightening gun laws, it’s going to register weirdos. Anyone with an insufficient number of friends wears a headband with a giant “L” and is subject to monitoring, in case their daily social engagement drops dangerously low.

Director Eryc Tramonn and screenwriter Neil McGowan take this idea in an uninspired direction, however, staging what at times feels like a shapeless 90-minute improv routine. The cast is talented — and occasionally funny — but they run out of fertile material quickly.

The plot sees a handful of Loners — from a mall sales clerk to a gruff gardener to a former child star — forced by the government into regular group therapy sessions, to learn how to be “normal.” The gang also violates the law and gathers privately, to help each other out, as well as gripe about a society that thinks spending a quiet evening reading “Ethan Frome” is suspicious behavior.

The scenes in the outside world are pretty broad, with a lot of goofy puns and cartoonish characters. The movie builds more momentum in the off-the-books hangout scenes, where these eclectic misfits learn a little more about each other.

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But the characters never expand much beyond their types. And whatever the film has to say about the perils of authoritarianism and conformity gets swamped by a seemingly contradictory message: Introverts should get out more.

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‘Loners’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

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Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also available on VOD

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