After the happy-go-lucky Slacker, the wistful nostalgia of Dazed And Confused and Before Sunrise's romantic charm, Linklater's latest outing, a crooked comedy of lost generational youth, may come as a bit of a shock. Adapted from Eric Bogosian's acclaimed play, it has a misanthropy, pessimism and pungency quite unlike any of the aforementioned films. As the opening shopping malls and ideal homes fade, the strip lights fall on three waster friends: college drop-out Jeff (Ribisi), discharged serviceman Tim (Katt) and the Beavis-like Buff (Zahn). Assembling for their nightly ritual of booze, banter and bitching, they await the arrival of former high-school buddy Pony (Jayce Bartok), now a rising rock star back in town for the evening. With his limo and publicist (Parker Posey) in tow, Pony puts the well-groomed cat amongst the grungy pigeons, sowing seeds of sexual tension and resentment that tragically germinate by dawn.
Once again, Linklater's self-effacing direction pays dividends, drawing out unpretentious turns from a talented ensemble cast of young hopefuls, none more believable than the totally-messed-up Zahn or as impressively observed as Katt's bilious malcontent. Having brilliantly caught the protagonist's numbing ennui, what a pity then that the film's structure should also resemble their wayward lives. It has a tendency to drift aimlessly and, having said all there is to say on the subject long before the two hours are up, loiters around when it really ought to have gone to bed. The serrated-edged dialogue may provide laughter but doesn't compensate for what is a strangely depressing experience.