THE MOVIE "Palm Springs"
WHEN | WHERE Now streaming on Hulu
BOTTOM LINE A derivative and desperate-to-be-“dark” comedy.
It’s hard to say what’s happening in the opening minutes of “Palm Springs.” Nyles, a tipsy hipster played by Andy Samberg, pops a beer, weaves across a dance floor with impeccable grace and skill, charms a dark-haired train wreck named Sarah (Cristin Milioti), is nearly killed by a commando, then spirals into a time loop unleashed by an earthquake. The next day, he pops a beer and starts over.
Welcome to another version of “Groundhog Day,” this one combined with “The Big Lebowski,” a couple of Charlie Kaufman screenplays and a dash of Jim Jarmusch. If that sounds appealing, maybe you’d like this 32-ounce cup of Coke, Sprite and Mr. Pibb. The result is roughly the same: All your favorite flavors in one noxious mix.
Kudos to writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow for generating Sundance buzz with their first feature film, but boy, is it irritating. It’s one of those “instant cult classics,” packed to bursting with cartoonish violence, surrealism and edgy humor (vomiting, sex). “Palm Springs” works hard to convince us that it’s for grown-ups, but it only gave me the opposite impression.
Much of the film’s humor stems from Nyles’ blase attitude toward the outrageous. When that commando (J.K. Simmons as Roy) shows up, Nyles is more irked than terrified. Nyles is a teenager’s fantasy of bulletproof cynicism — always bored, even upon pain of death. That shtick gets old fast. Samberg, who began as a musical prankster with the Lonely Island, has become an adept comic actor, able to mix sensitivity with silliness (“Popstar,” NBC’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine"). His approximation of Bill Murray’s arch cool, however, falls short.
“Palm Springs” wants to be a dark, flippant, absurdist version of “Groundhog Day” — but “Groundhog Day” was already dark, flippant and absurd. There isn’t much of a twist here, aside from Sarah inadvertently joining Nyles in his infinite, beer-soaked purgatory. She falls for him, although the film doesn’t give us a credible reason why.
By the movie’s end, it’s impossible not to get a little caught up in the romance, partly thanks to Milioti’s heart-on-sleeve performance. Still, the movie is impossible to forgive. “It’s one of those infinite time-loop situations you might have heard about,” Nyles casually tells Sarah, a line that seems to sum up this too-cool, self-amused film.