Early parts of Martin & Orloff (2002) take place at a softball game. It's convenient for reviewers because the movie's humor is hit-or-miss.
That's not a criticism. The movie is the work of improvisational comedians and it is the nature of improv to be only partially successful. When it works, as it frequently does in Martin & Orloff, the results can be riotously funny. When it falls short, improv comedy at least gives its audience the modest gift of being able to appreciate the effort.
Members of the Upright Citizens Brigade improv group and some of their comedy pals obviously had fun putting together this fast-paced comedy. Audiences can enjoy it also.
Martin & Orloff is the kind of off-kilter that has as its central moral dilemma the design of a costume for an anthropomorphic sparerib. It follows a fart joke with the observation that, "Friendship is an act of volition. This seems more like kidnapping." Some viewers will laugh at one, some at the other and perhaps some at both. This is not to suggest the movie is for everyone. Anyone who doesn't appreciate crudity will be offended but anyone looking for a true gross-out comedy will be disappointed.
Martin, underplayed brilliantly by Ian Roberts with the kind of deadpan wit Paul Lieberstin brings to his Toby on the U.S. version of The Office, needs psychiatric counseling after a suicide attempt. He meets Dr. Orloff for a first session that owes something to Martin Scorsese's After Hours as it leads to a fist fight, jail, a play with an ironic suicide theme and a car accident that -- as they always seem to in comedies -- knocks over a fire hydrant.
Then things get more out-of-control during their second session. Everything comes to a madcap conclusion that will either delight with its zaniness or irritate with its unbelievable silliness.
Matt Walsh as Dr. Orloff meets Roberts' skillful subtlety with a manic child-like self-absorption. He's so dangerous behind the wheel of a car that his off-hand "I'll drive" is a terrific punchline. He's so misguided a shrink that he thinks it wise to taunt a raging, giant pro football player. Dr. Orloff is comically frustrated because his girlfriend (a terrific Kim Raver in too small a role) is withholding sex and he can't manipulate her because she is at least as well-versed in psychiatric theory as he is.
Roberts, Walsh and Katie Roberts wrote the screenplay and they get plenty of help from their comedian friends to bring the movie to life. Amy Poehler surprises with a terrifically crass punchline and a bit of mime that is so suggestive it is practically explicit. David Cross scores some chuckles in a supporting part that will remind Arrested Development fans of his funnier turn as Tobias Funke. H. Jon Benjamin is unrestrained as a patient with poor anger management who uses sinks as toilets. (It's not shown. This is not Bridesmaids.)
The comedy's cast would be an embarrassment of riches if all of its members were put to good use. Janeane Garafalo, Tina Fey and Saturday Night Live's Rachel Dratch are shown so briefly that one could miss all three with little more than an extended blink. Andy Richter's two short appearances seem to set up a pay-off with an expected third but he is seen just the twice.
There is a lot going on in Martin & Orloff and much of it is either funny or at least amusing. Even the parts that fail can bring an indulgent chuckle from those who can imagine how they might have worked, and who have been swept up by the many parts that do.
Martin & Orloff is available for viewing for free on Hulu.com through September 2014.