A Bad Thing (2011)

US / 24 minutes / color Dir: Nick White (i.e., Nick Paul White) Pr & Scr: Michael Blackman, Nick White Cine: Matthew A. Del Ruth Cast: Richard Riehle, Jonathan Schwartz, Alan Charof, Molly White, Ferrell Marshall, Kristen Besinque

Lawyer and heart attack waiting to happen Frank Harrison (Riehle) has been exploited in the offices of Jaffe & Associates, Attorneys at Law, for twenty years, doing all the work yet forever not quite attaining the partnership that old man Martin Jaffe (Charof) promised him so long ago. Even though Martin these days rarely comes into the office, still the partnership doesn’t materialize.

Martin’s son Roman (Schwartz), educated by his pop into the cutthroat approach to life, has recently been employed as the office junior. What poor Frank fails to realize until ‘way too late is how big a mistake he made by antagonizing Roman, and in particular by letting Roman catch him masturbating to porn at his desk . . .

Richard Riehle as Frank

A Bad Thing is well made and well performed by its three principals. (Other players are Molly White as Frank’s much younger wife June, Ferrell Marshall as Martin’s much younger wife Linda, and Kristen Besinque as the secretary/receptionist of another company.) Riehle delivers an appropriately blimpish Frank while Schwartz and Charof manage to make their two characters each, in their way, ghastlier than the other; Schwartz is helped by the fact that he bears a more than passing physical resemblance to Mark Zuckerberg, right down to the array of smug facial expressions.

Jonathan Schwartz as Roman

Despite all the pluses, though, I’m not sure the movie finally works for me. The nasty little extortion scheme that Roman works out simply isn’t ingenious or watertight enough. (Without going into detail, the evidence he manufactures is inconclusive and could easily be destroyed.) Also, if Frank is such an able attorney, surely he could have walked out and gotten himself another job years ago?

Richard Riehle as Frank (left) and Alan Charof as Martin

So long as I didn’t think too hard about the plot, A Bad Thing kept me interested and entertained. But in the end, though, I came away from the movie a tad dissatisfied. It seemed to me everything was building up to some or other mindspinning reversal as finale, and yet the movie—disappointingly—settled for one of the obvious default conclusions.

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