To the extent that Jim Hosking’s cartoonishly grotesque characters can be called human, they paint an unflattering portrait of the species. They are dopes and bullies, middle-aged virgins and horndogs with bad hair, disgusting habits, ugly thrift-store clothes. The Greasy Strangler, his debut feature, pitched itself to midnight audiences with its story of psychosexual struggle between a father and son (one of whom is also the serial killer of the title) who hang around a decrepit Craftsman home in hog-hugging Speedos and lead tours of empty alleys in matching pink turtleneck sweaters and shorts. The follow-up, An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn, is superficially more mainstream; the Troma-esque gross-out gags and foot-long prosthetic dongs are gone, and though some of The Greasy Strangler’s oddball non-professional actors pop up in supporting roles, the cast is mostly made up of film and TV comedy pros, all of whom seem to be having a good time overacting Hosking’s Bizarro World dialogue. Not that anyone would mistake Hosking’s mannerist, sexually frustrated hijinks—or the plot’s flaky parodies of melodramas and hard-luck noir—for an indie calling card.
At the beginning, we are introduced to the puffy-sleeve-sweater-wearing Lulu (Aubrey Plaza) and her unhappy marriage to the macho, cappuccino-obsessed Shane Danger (Emile Hirsch, doing an impression of early ’90s Nicolas Cage). After learning that Lulu’s middle-aged Indian brother, Adjay (Sam Dissanayake), keeps his savings in a box of cash, Shane hatches a dimwitted (even by Hosking standards) plan to hold up Adjay’s vegan convenience store and enlists his obsequious flunkies Tyrone (Zach Cherry) and Carl (The Greasy Strangler’s Sky Elobar, now rocking thinning Weird Al hair) in the robbery. Adjay, in turn, contracts Colin (Jemaine Clement), a long-haired, socially inept drifter who he met in a laundromat, to get the stolen cash back by force—only to have Lulu run off with Colin and the money when the gawky hired thug comes to collect.
Together, they hole up in a kitschy hotel resort. Although Shane is convinced that Lulu has left him for Colin because he has a gun (it symbolizes “the male penis,” as one character helpfully explains), it isn’t really a case of l’amour fou; she’s only interested in the hotel’s celebrity guest, the mysterious Beverly Luff Linn (Craig Robinson). He wears tam o’shanters and Scottish plaid and only communicates by growling, grunting, and bellowing like a bear; periodically, his “platonic male partner” and personal assistant, Rodney Von Donkensteiger (Matt Berry), rubs his belly to help him fart. Luff Linn is scheduled to present a one-night-only show in the hotel’s ballroom, though the performance keeps getting delayed, and no one in town really knows what this famous act consists of—only that it will be a “magical,” life-altering experience. (The actual nature of the show, which is the climax of An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn, somehow manages to defy even the film’s absurdist expectations.)
As with The Greasy Strangler, the parade of bad taste and tacky outfits sometimes brings to mind early John Waters minus its spirit of pre-punk camp, or Quentin Dupieux without the dream logic and camera sense. Regardless, its caricatures of (mostly male) insecurities in conflict are a far cry from a subversive, Waters-ian celebration of violated norms; if Hosking shows any sympathy for his frumpy, graceless characters, it’s because of the underlying ordinariness of their motivations (loneliness, lack of confidence, etc.) and not their freakiness. But in many respects, Beverly Luff Linn represents a refinement of The Greasy Strangler’s sensibilities, simply by offering more—more dumb jokes, more ill-fitting clothes, more goofy plotting, a much more experienced cast—in a package that’s funnier and less overtly mean-spirited.