Low-budget slacker comedy ‘Buzzard’ keeps it real

Funny and bizarre enough to attract a cult following, “Buzzard” is also off-putting enough to keep its micro-indie cred. I think it might be the real thing.

There are some recognizable influences, like the ratty-couch ambience of early Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, with more than a touch of James Gunn’s wacky/hostile “Super” mixed in. But for all that, it only takes a few minutes of watching “Buzzard” to suspect a stubbornly original filmmaker on the scene — namely Michigan writer-director Joel Potrykus, whose second feature this is.

We are in the world of Martin Jackitansky, a conniving slacker who seems to belong to a previous generation. He is played by an insolent actor named Joshua Burge, a hunkier version of Steve Buscemi but without Buscemi’s dramatic chops.

Martin works as a temp at a bank, where he orders office supplies and then sells them back to the local big-box store. His life is a series of pitifully small-time scams, but at least he’s got a long-term goal: developing his old Nintendo power glove into a Freddy Krueger-like weapon.

When a scheme to sign over bank reimbursement checks to himself leads Martin to suspect he might get into real trouble, he escapes to the basement of co-worker Derek (Potrykus, a deft comic performer).

The hapless Derek lives with his dad, but he’s claimed the basement as the “Party Zone,” a heroic attempt to sustain the fantasy that he has a life. He’d really like to bond with Martin, but as the latter reminds him, theirs is not an actual friendship: “We’re work friends.” Nothing discourages Derek, a wonderful character who, at the very least, deserves his own web series.

Potrykus shifts the tone when Martin flees to Detroit, as “Buzzard” takes on darker coloration. Despite the zany episodes, the movie is aware that we’re in a society that lacks a safety net for lots of people, and Martin might be one of them.

In tracing this slacker’s descent, this film has its share of curious digressions, including two nonsensical eating scenes: Derek scarfing up Bugles off a moving treadmill (the snack food is on the treadmill, not Derek), and Martin wolfing down a plateful of spaghetti and meatballs in a long, uncomfortable take.

Those asides give the impression that Potrykus is making a lot of this up as he goes along, and maybe he is, but the confidence on display is unmistakable. If you gave this guy a bigger budget, it might not be a great idea. Scratching the American underbelly may be this director’s proper level.

“Buzzard” (3 stars)

Micro-indie from Michigan filmmaker Joel Potrykus, about a scheming slacker (Joshua Burge, a Steve Buscemi in the making) whose petty scams might get him into real trouble. This scruffy movie has its share of nonsensical digressions, but in some ways it feels like the real thing.

Rating: Not rated; probably R for violence, language

Showing: Grand Illusion theater

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