Student films must be graded on a curve, and Flakes is basically a student film. If you overlooked the fact that the three leads are all moderately high-profile actors, I'd estimate the budget to be less than twenty thousand dollars. Most of the action takes place in or around the titular establishment, a cereal bar in which slackers and stoners assemble on a daily basis to eat their favorite cereals -- everything from standard fare like Cheerios to rare delicacies like Fruit Brute -- and make of themselves a quirky movie character. The two leads are a boyfriend-girlfriend, Neal Downs (Aaron Stanford) and the improbably named Miss Pussy Katz. (Zooey Deschanel) Their boss at Flakes is a 60-ish hippie played by Christopher Lloyd, and his performance is the biggest thing hindering my plan to give Flakes a better review than it deserves. Lloyd comes from some long forgotten school of acting where naturalism is never as a good a choice as creating a character with such a forced way of speaking that no one could ever mistake them for a human being.
With a movie like this, they base their plot on whatever is on sale at the 'cliched plot device' factory, and it appears that what was on sale that week was 'business is threatened by newer, flashier rival across the street.' A nerdy businessman comes walking into Flakes one day and is impressed by the concept but dispirited by the stoner attitude -- he doesn't get what Flakes is all about, man! -- and determines to open an upscale cereal bar directly across the way which will put Flakes out of business. This causes much tension. Miss Pussy Katz -- I can't believe I keep having to type that -- and her boyfriend have a number of rows over how Flakes should respond to the crisis at hand and the loyal customers alternately declare their loyalty or decamp to the new establishment across the street. As bad as this all sounds, there are a couple of things about Flakes that I really liked, and I'm more than happy to point them out and to remind everyone that this is from the director of Heathers.
With the 'business is threatened' plot device, there has to come a point when the Flakes employees resort to silly and potentially illegal shenanigans to put their upstart rival out of business, but this time it's something I actually found funny. Flakes takes place in New Orleans and the Flakes employees create a scam that draws an angry mob of Hurricane Katrina victims to the new place, thinking they've just won some free cereal. It's a lot funnier than it sounds and even though just covering a riot in progress is beyond the budget that Flakes is working with, I liked the balls of the idea and it does lend itself to a few funny moments. Another thing I liked is that the big confrontation over Flakes and its competitor ultimately resolves itself in an absurd legal arbitration over the fact that the new business calls itself 'New Flakes.' Seriously, couldn't he have come up with a different name? Again, it's funnier when you actually see it and I'm being generous given what they had to work with.
As Miss Pussy Katz, Zooey Deschanel struggles against a number of obstacles, including a director who doesn't know how to direct her and a cameraman who doesn't know how to light her. In all seriousness, Deschanel is a very pretty girl but she requires borderline competence and not a guy who doesn't understand concepts as simple as a good and bad side. Her character isn't even halfway thought-out -- she's supposed to be a new age hippie, but her personality changes with each page of the script -- so give Deschanel some credit for actually sticking with it for as long as she does. I guess you have 100 percent even if you're working for peanuts on a doomed project. As Neal Downs, Aaron Stanford reads his lines well and does adequate work all around -- of all the characters his is probably the most stable, since he just has to stand behind a cereal bar most of the time. And unlike Christopher Lloyd, he doesn't feel that his work here starts with coming up with some unique or interesting take.
Flakes has a few laughs here and there for those who are looking for them, and it's been so long since Heathers that it makes no since to ask what has become of Michael Lehmann -- the movie is what it is and it's so low-budget that no relevant comparisons can be made between it and a studio-financed picture. It reminds me a lot of the kind of movies that I used to see at college film festivals back at UNC -- the kind of thing that someone maxed out all their credit cards and borrowed tons of money from their parents to make, and which lived and died during the brief run of that one festival it was selected for. If that sounds like a good time to you, then by all means check out Flakes.