(R) 3 1/2 stars

One of the best parts of my job is screening some little film I"ve never heard of and discovering that it"s a beaut. The Independent is one of those movies.

Scruffy and uneven, it is laugh-out-loud funny and, at 85 minutes, short enough to not wear out its welcome.

The movie follows director Morty Fineman (Jerry Stiller), a low-budget independent filmmaker responsible for creating an amazing 427 movies since he made his debut in 1964 with the Army VD production The Simplex Complex. Morty is a fiery artist whose imagination is as strong as his filmmaking skills are weak. He tries to make statements with his movies, so his actors end up making lots of cheesy speeches. His female actors tend to end up topless.

Most of the fun in The Independent comes from hearing the titles and watching clips from his movies. I don"t want to spoil things for you, so I"ll only comment on only one of his offerings.

The film opens with Morty filming a crucial scene from Ms. Kevorkian, a combination action and message movie with a sexily clad, gun-toting mercy killer who enters hospital wards to blast her clients. As an elderly gent ogles her from his hospital bed, Ms. Kevorkian argues morality with the man"s two attractive grown children. His beautiful daughter sports a Daisy Mae-type blouse, knotted in the front to bare her midriff. His handsome son is showing off his abs by knotting his shirt in the same fashion.

Suddenly, the brother and sister whip out guns, announcing, "We won"t let you do this!"

Dad pulls a revolver from beneath the covers and shouts, "Let me die!"

Before the scene can be resolved, Ms. Kevorkian blows her lines. Morty urges her to get the speech straight, reminding her that time is short because "we"re using real terminally ill people here."

"I know," she snaps back, "and it doesn"t feel right. Acting with real terminally ill people seems, y"know, like wearing fur."

Is that enough to get you to the theater? Maybe I should tell you about Brothers Divided, a Vietnam War era epic about Siamese twins, one a starry-eyed hippie and the other a tough talking right-winger, who get drafted and sent into battle. Or how about Christ for the Defense, where Ö no, you need to see that one for yourself.

If you enjoy tasteless humor and don"t mind a movie that"s ragged at the edges, put The Independent on your must-see list. Trust me, I have barely scraped the surface of the treats this film has in store.


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