“When the carbs give out, that’s when the crab kicks in.”
Thus spake Ryan O’Brien, a would-be champion marathon runner who is one of those guys constantly pumping himself up as more capable or knowledgeable than he really is. In this case, he is professing his belief that you’re supposed to “crab load” before a big race, and even when called out on the mistake by the documentary filmmaker following him, Ryan insists that he didn’t really mean to eat a lot of carbs, he’s using his own unique system involving horking down pounds and pounds of crab meat.
Ryan is a first-class horse’s ass, as you’ve probably surmised, though what he is not is a real guy. Played by Andrew Hansen, he’s one of a dozen or so pretend people profiled in “Marathon,” a mockumentary about a tiny annual race in the desert and the deluded folks who participate in it or put it on.
In Ryan’s case, he’s a youngish realtor who’s recently divorced and is now channeling all his angst and anger into running. He missed the cutoff for last year’s Boston Marathon by just nine minutes, and is so confident he’ll make it this year he’s already bought his plane ticket.
The Devil’s Canyon Marathon is an official qualifying race, though it leaves much to be desired. It’s been run in the desert for the past 15 years, and organizer Ed Clap (Jimmy Slonina), a mousy accountant or some sort who looks like he doesn’t even own a pair of running shoes, is keeping it together on a shoestring with fourth-rate medals and radio commercials he voices himself.
Ed speaks wistfully about the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy, noting their number of entrants went way up the next year.
Mockumentaries — or “mock-a-docs,” as the filmmakers dub it — live and die by the ability of the actors to sell the joke without ever breaking character. The splendid cast of “Mockumentary” is adept at just that, playing a band of misfits and self-deluded weirdos who think they have what it takes to make it to the finish line.
Shareef Washington (Tavius Cortez) is probably the closest to “normal” of the bunch, the kid brother of an accomplished triathlete who seems to be entering the marathon just to show her up. In one of the movie’s funnier recurring bits (which also makes you feel like crying), as a Black man he is constantly chased, Tazed and handcuffed by police for simply running around in public.
The funniest of the lot, in my view, is Anais Thomassian as Abby Dozier, an upscale suburban mom who wants to race simply as a way to escape the constant pressures of caring for a 1-year-old baby. Any parent will identify with her mix of stress and identity crisis, training within a few blocks of her house to keep in range of the baby monitor.
All of the runners suffer setbacks, though in Abby’s case it seems more like a curse. She’s a hilarious trooper, aided (somewhat) by her nebbishy husband, who ran for awhile but gave it up after coming in third to two dudes who he will not describe. Thomassian has terrific comedic timing and her reaction shots are priceless.
Jenna Kowalski (Natalie Sullivan) is a single woman who wants to break the world record for running a marathon dressed as a fruit, in her case a banana. (It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a real thing.) In a bit of fourth wall-breaking fun, the filmmakers pretend to force upon her a nemesis, another runner dressed as a banana, though he’s really an actor (Roberto Raad) working for Dole in an act of product placement to fund this production. They end up falling in love, though there’s something rotten in the core…
I also loved the “journey” of Emilou Paunch (Kimia Behpoornia), a blowsy gal who’d rather do streaming show marathons than real ones, and quickly quits her training and is easily the happiest of them all.
Writer/director duo Anthony Guidubaldi and Keith Strausbaugh keep things moving at a brisk pace (har-har!), though occasionally the editing between stories is a little faster than I’d liked. They seem to be trying to emulate a “Saturday Night Live” sort of timing, which works for a 10-minute sketch, but sometimes the jokes need a little more air to breathe in a feature film, even a short one at 82 minutes.
For instance, Ryan has an ongoing antagonism with his cameraman, Jeff, and for awhile it seems like they’ve developed a codependent thing that might even break into romance. I would’ve liked to ride that story thread a ways longer.
But there’s lots of laughs to spread around, and even with a few minor stumbles “Marathon” stays firmly on a solid laugh track.