A real missed opportunity, this update of a Herman Melville short story is all surface and no substance, like the pilot episode of yet another workplace sitcom. David Paymer steps into the role of the nameless boss, with Crispin Glover as the troublesome employee Bartleby, who for no apparent reason starts answering all instructions with the line, "I would prefer not to," and starts spending an inordinate amount of time simply staring at the ceiling. The film has to pad Melville's tale out to feature length, and it still comes in at a scant 82 minutes, about 52 minutes too long. First-time director Jonathan Parker has the occasional flash of surreal inspiration but fails to catch fire with his flat cinematography and buffoonish caricatures. He even adds on a new ending that's woefully misjudged, one that seems intended to be extra ironic, or perhaps even to vindicate Melville, who died in obscurity--as if he needed vindication. Glover's fun to watch, but way too psycho to evoke the required sympathy.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.