Mortgaging Futures One at a Time

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The New York Sun

A man’s home is his castle, especially if it boasts a fully landscaped moat in an upscale neighborhood.

Home ownership has always been the holy grail of upward economic mobility and the finish line to many American dreams. That may explain why picket fences and two-car garages are also the raison d’etre for a growing television empire built on improving the home you finally have. But for some reason, the fascination that fuels such successful programs as “Flip That House” and “Bought & Sold” hasn’t carried over to the big screen.

If comedy is tragedy plus time, maybe the time is not yet right for a comedy about residential real estate, especially given the subprime mortgage crisis and housing market downturn. On the other hand, maybe that means now is the perfect time. Armen Kaprelian and Kent G. Llewellyn’s new mockumentary about the misadventures of house hunting, “Closing Escrow,” chronicles three acquisitive couples’ quests for their dream homes in Los Angeles.

Successful black attorneys Bobby (Cedric Yarbrough) and Tamika (April Barnett) are in the market for a posh penthouse, and their racially hypersensitive agent, Hillary (Wendi McLendon-Covey), is working to find it. Mary (Colleen Crabtree) and Allen (Rob Brownstein) seek help from their new neighbor, Peter (Bruce Thomas), a realtor whose souped-up home Allen desperately wants to oneup. Tom (Andrew Friedman) and the loony Kelly (Kirstin Pierce) are working with a shady agent (Ryan Smith) who vandalizes homes in hopes that they will depreciate in value. The couples’ individual arcs don’t develop much from there before they all enter a climactic bidding war for the same property. Home, or at least a potential one, is where the heartburn is for these buyers-to-be.

For a low-budget independent feature, “Closing Escrow” boasts truly impressive production values. Its location scout must have worked overtime to secure the various eye-popping properties seen here. Most striking is a luxurious penthouse converted from a car dealership, complete with skylights, a loft, and a movie screen built into the living room.

Mr. Kaprelian, who also shares the writing credits with Mr. Llewellyn, spent three years producing the reality series “House Hunters” for the HGTV network. “Closing Escrow” has the aesthetics of those real estate/home improvement shows unmistakably pegged, with obligatory money shots marveling over details such as brick fireplaces, moldings, stainless steel appliances, and granite countertops.

The cast of relatively unknown but surprisingly competent actors further cements the believability of the film. Ms. McLendon-Covey, best known for her role on Comedy Central’s “Reno 911,” stands out as a high-strung realtor whose storyline satirizes the status quo on race, gender, and affirmative action.

In spite of its spot-on direction and performances, “Closing Escrow” isn’t quite fully functional as a mockumentary. Christopher Guest, the undisputed champion of the genre, has always packed his films with a large and eclectic cast of actors who are seasoned at improvisational comedy and imbue films such as “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind” with just enough episodic tangents to keep the narrative going. “Closing Escrow” very quickly exhausts the repertoire of antics of these buyers and realtors, most of which are more cringe-worthy than funny. The cast also lacks that slightly over-the-top quality that makes Mr. Guest’s band of regulars so winning.

Although fans of HGTV and TLC might find this tour of Los Angeles homes pleasant, “Closing Escrow” has the feel of a half-hour TV show on one of those channels drawn out to an hour and a half. It fails to cash in on a golden opportunity to examine our collective fascination with the real estate shows it attempts to satirize, and it just isn’t a humorous enough send-up on materialist and class-conscious status seekers treating their homes as monuments to their own success.

The New York Sun

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