(PG-13) 3 1/2 starsEd Johnson-Ott

There are two audiences I believe will most likely enjoy Primer, which opens Friday at Key Cinemas. First, it is a puzzle movie and those who enjoyed sorting through productions like Memento should have fun with this one. I don't want to give away anything about the story, so I'll quote the plot description from the Web site for the film. 'Primer': ingenious, award-winning and made for $7,000.

"Primer is set in the industrial park/suburban tract-home fringes of an unnamed contemporary city where two young engineers, Abe and Aaron, are members of a small group of men who work by day for a large corporation while conducting extracurricular experiments on their own time in a garage. While tweaking their current project, a device that reduces the apparent mass of any object placed inside it by blocking gravitational pull, they accidentally discover that it has some highly unexpected capabilities - ones that could enable them to do and to have seemingly anything they want. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity is the first challenge they face. Dealing with the consequences is the next."

Obtuse enough for you?

The second audience for the film, I think, is people who are sick of their jobs and have a few thousand dollars in the bank. For them, the film could serve as a primer on how to get rich. Consider: Thirty-one-year-old Shane Carruth, who wrote, directed, edited, scored and co-starred in Primer, was an engineer unhappy with his career choice. So he spent three years studying filmmaking and made Primer for $7,000. Yes, you read right, $7,000.

At the Sundance Film Festival, the movie won the Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award for films dealing with science and technology. Then it got picked up for national distribution. Between its theatrical run (domestic and international), its pay-per-view, cable and broadcast rights, plus DVD revenues, Carruth is destined to be a rich man and a hot commodity to direct another film, which will make him richer even if it tanks.

Kind of makes you want to study filmmaking, eh?

The trick is coming up with a screenplay where you can make the most of your monetary limitations. Part of the fun with Primer is seeing what a good job Carruth did. The nicely-shot film is about young men not unlike himself (write what you know, write what you know). He injects a fantastic element into a normal environment, making the lack of gleaming machines a point of pride. Good decision, both dramatically and financially.

His four colleagues, soon pared down to two, are research types with less experience honing their social skills than most (I'm trying to avoid using the term "nerd" here). So we get lots of technobabble delivered by guys with stunted verbal affect. Perfect. The technobabble makes the confused audience listen closer and the stunted affects of the characters make it easier for his cast of presumably non-professional actors.

Indeed, Carruth plays Aaron, the dark-haired guy (David Sullivan plays Abe). He gives line readings so stiff that you wonder if he melted a Viagra capsule on his tongue, but still manages to squeak by as a socially stunted young techie.

It helped keep costs down.

I'm not trying to be coarse or cynical with all the money talk, by the way.

Honestly, a great part of the fun watching Primer is the ingenuity of it all. Shane Carruth came up with a screenplay destined for many repeat viewings by puzzle-movie fans (others will run away screaming from the first viewing) that could be produced for the price of a used car. How cool is that?

Incidentally, my commercially viable screenplay requires only two actors, one camera, ambient lighting and no soundtrack. Potential financial backers are urged to see Primer and give me a call.


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