You know how in all those romantic comedies, there's the non-hero guy? The one who gets left at the altar when the main man shows up at the last minute and makes off with the bride? Well, that guy is what's known as a "Baxter." Don't ask me where the term comes from; I'm going only by what I've been told in the indie rom-com called ... The Baxter.
Michael Showalter plays "Baxter" Elliot Sherman, a guy who seems to think he's perfectly nice and normal, but is really an amazing geek and a rather passive-aggressive little jerk-face. Through a series of plot turns that happen only in the sillier movies, Elliot ends up having to choose between two different ladies: the stunningly beautiful Caroline (Elizabeth Banks) or the cute yet awkward temp known as Cecil (Michelle Williams). Forever terrified that Caroline's old boyfriend will show up and wreck their burgeoning (and bland) love affair, Elliot says and does all sorts of neurotic things, stuff which would most likely be somewhat amusing were the Elliot character not such an unlikeable weenie.
There's a germ of a clever idea in here: that we dig into the life of the generic "other guy" who gets casually rebuffed in most rom-coms. But writer/director/star Michael Showalter seems more than content to travel in the exact same footsteps as its more expensive brethren. For all its potentially subversive ideas, The Baxter is as conventional as romantic comedies get. From the first three minutes you know precisely where this flick is going, and if it happens to deliver a few stray chuckles and a handful of winning performances, there's still the annoying matter of The Baxter's genre-bound predictability.
Putting aside Showalter's borderline creepy protagonist, The Baxter is fairly stuffed with fine performances. The luminous Elizabeth Banks gets to break out her "prim & proper" approach, and it makes for a pretty fun time. Even better is Michelle Willaims, here saddled with the painfully familiar role of "frumpy girl who's secretly reallllly hot," and Justin Theroux steals huge handfuls of scenes ... mainly because he's the only "LOL" funny person in the entire flick. Keep your eyes peeled for some colorful cameos by Showalter's old posse from MTV's The State, although none of 'em manage to make that big of an impression.
Video: It's a very crisp anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer. True, it's a fairly blandly directed flick, but the picture quality's pretty solid.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, with optional subtitles in English.
Extras: You get four outtakes and a bunch of trailers for Sueno, The Gospel, Ringers: Lord of the Fans, Madison, Creature Comforts: The Complete First Season, and Christmas with the Kranks.
I can't tell if The Baxter is a subersive comedian's attempt to satirize the rom-com conventions or a low-budget copycat wannabe, desperately hoping to become some sort of underground cult hit. Either way, you'll have forgotten all about The Baxter less than 45 minutes after the end credits roll. It's not exactly a terrible little flick, but ultimately it's as disposable as a used pudding cup.