'Dark Horse' review: When does the race start?

'Dark Horse'

'Dark Horse' (June 19, 2012)

** (out of four)

I'm no dating expert, but testicular cancer does not seem like a very promising first-date conversation topic.

Not that awkward, overweight Abe (Jordan Gelber of “Boardwalk Empire”) and mopey Miranda (Selma Blair) have any potential in the first place. He's all pathetic desperation; she's all exhausted disappointment, barely generating the energy to suggest she sees his advances as worth dignifying. This sort of relationship falls right in line with the worldview of writer-director Todd Solondz (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”), whose outlook sometimes drips profound acid from the edges of human behavior, as in 2010's surprisingly worthwhile “Happiness” sequel “Life During Wartime.”

In “Dark Horse,” though, Solondz's pessimism congeals into something toxic that should be disposed, not examined. He wants to address the tragedy of a happy future that never arrives. Abe blames his parents (Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow) and successful, attractive brother (Justin Bartha of “The Hangover”) for most of his failings—but this guy's not an underdog worth rooting for. “Humanity's a [bleeping] cesspool,” Abe laments, having displayed minimal effort toward professional productivity or self-improvement that might render this dude and his atrocious personality worthy of feeling unrecognized.

There's depressing precision to the image of a man sitting in a mid-day movie because he has nothing else to do. The image suits the man, though, and “Dark Horse” offers less about the tragedy of expecting the world to have your back than an irritating, cynical depiction of the emptiness that stems from two people throwing in the towel together.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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