“No man is useless while he has a friend.” — Robert Louis Stevenson quote from the beginning of “Fumble” 

“You guys are kinda funny. A little misguided, but generally sweet.” — A more representative quote from “Fumble” 

If the new guy may be indulged: It’s tough to be a local film writer. Striking a balance between encouraging the growth of the local film scene and actually, you know, being a film critic and pointing out the faults of locally made movies is tricky. (Plus, if I pan a Hollywood blockbuster, I’m unlikely to run into Michael Bay at Ruski’s.)

Which brings me to “Fumble,” the feature film debut of Maine director Torrey Alan Johnson that premiered at the Nickelodeon on Wednesday. A knockabout comedy about two friends playing at being criminals and, predictably, getting in over their heads, “Fumble” is pretty much the epitome of the first film — created on a tiny budget, of variable quality and ultimately sort of endearing.

The main problem with “Fumble” is its script (by Johnson and co-leads Derek Gierhan and Andy Sawyer), which succeeds best when coasting on the considerable comic charisma of Gierhan and Sawyer’s prankish pals and goes slack when advancing the plot or setting up wacky comic set-pieces (the “funny foreign guy” is especially tired).

In these scenes, Johnson employs a hyper-edited succession of lines taken from rambling takes, which are not nearly as funny as intended, but are partially redeemed by the leads’ deadpan reactions.

Sawyer (Sam), the de facto leader, bats his eyelashes and has a twinkly comic thing going, and Gierhan (Charlie) is the peerlessly shaggy straight man. Both are united by an impish element of performance in everything they do.

I especially liked Charlie’s quick reappearance with an added scarf upon spying his cute neighbor, and the guys’ half-hearted attempt at a room service disguise — a bottle of water and a handful of bananas.

Unfortunately, the film drags when the plot kicks in, and the non-ending is rushed and unsatisfying, especially after a cop-out post-credits scene.

The rest of the cast is nondescript (the women’s roles, typical of a guy-centric project such as this, are indifferently written), with the exception of the chief villain played with Ben Affleckian thuggish weirdness (yes, that’s a compliment) by Dave Ciampa.

“Fumble” is a no-budget first film, and while once in a great while you’ll get a “Bottle Rocket,” “Primer” or “Clerks,” more often than not, you take away the hope that the filmmaker will use the lessons he’s learned as a springboard to something better.

“Fumble’s” amiable charms are the stuff better films are built on. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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