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It's A Small, Slight 'Jobe'z World'

In the bargain-basement-cosmic prologue to Jobe'z World, the title character muses on "the infinite void." In reality, rollerblader Jobe (Jason Grisell) lives and works in the tightly circumscribed universe known as lower Manhattan. He achieves escape velocity only via the "sick manga" he writes and draws, recounting the adventures of Celestial Steven, a planet-hopping EDM DJ.

As writer-director Michael M. Bilandic is careful to have one character note, Jobe is a modern-day version of Biblical sad-sack Job, tormented by forces beyond his ken. This slacker comedy's other obvious inspiration is the 2014 drug-mishap death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, which occurred in the same part of town where bleached-blond, past-his-prime Jobe works as a dope courier.

Even without the plot's major complication, Jobe faces a busy night: He's promised to see a comic/fisherman pal perform at a comedy club, and he has to pick up his mom at the airport. Then Jobe's boss summons him for a prestigious task: Everyone's favorite plus-sized, bearded, three-named actor has ordered a shipment of a narcotic that's "worse than what killed MJ and Prince put together."

Royce David Leslie (Theodore Bouloukos) is an expansive mood when Jobe arrives. He serves vodka in glasses embellished with cartoon panda bears, and encourages Jobe to discuss his life and creative ambitions. Encouraged, the delivery man slips Royce a copy of the amateurish Celestial Steven.

Jobe is elated when he leaves, but his joy dissolves soon after when he hears a report that Royce is dead. In an apparent last act, the actor posted an online video in which he mentions Jobe's comic, clearly linking the courier to Royce's demise.

The 'blader says goodbye to his dog, dons a disguise, and goes on the run. If he doesn't travel far, it's probably because he has little concept of life beyond his usual turf. New Jersey might as well be Neptune.

Made on a microscopic budget, Jobe'z World is engagingly scrappy. It's easy to root for a film where one of the actors — Owen Kline, who plays Jobe's comedian buddy — also drew Celestial Steven and served as an assistant editor. But at a mere 67 minutes, the movie is not exactly sprightly.

It takes more than a short's running time, of course, to convey the escalating panic of a hapless chump on a night when everything goes wrong. Martin Scorsese's 1985 After Hours, a distant cousin to Jobe'z World, runs an eventful 97 minutes. But that film didn't just benefit from its director's virtuosic style. It also had a script.

Bilandic's Jobe'z World screenplay begins with a promising scenario, but most of its eccentric characters — including Jobe himself — are sketchy, and the dialogue needs a couple more spins through the word processor. Bouloukos is entertaining as the self-involved thespian, but an actor as revered as Royce David Leslie would never accept such an underwritten part.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Jenkins reviews movies for NPR.org, as well as for reeldc.com, which covers the Washington, D.C., film scene with an emphasis on art, foreign and repertory cinema.

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