Sunday, June 14, 2009 | 11:19 a.m.
A movie brimming with ideas but little storytelling discipline and even less human emotion, Asylum Seekers begins with a promising premise: Six social misfits seek to opt out of society by competing against each other for one spot in an asylum. They include a girl addicted to computers; a right-wing government conspiracy nut; a woman locked in a loveless marriage; a deranged virgin; an egomaniacal rapper; and an exhibitionist who’s paranoid that everyone’s looking at her.
But the movie plods along with the lumpy uncertainty of a first draft, playing out as a series of workshop-like vignettes that build to nothing. At one point the characters are made to participate in that universal symbol of creative lethargy, a (grating) talent show.
The movie’s surreal atmosphere of psychological suspense is undercut by its comedy, which itself is fairly limp, and director Ajami cannot seem to corral her ambitious ideas about the nature of “normalcy” into a dramatically satisfying form.
Worse, for the most part the characters are only types—and the actors play them too broadly to give us anything to grab onto. Too bad, because Ajami shows some skill in the few scenes where she lets the hidden yearnings of her characters come out. But these moments quickly fade, and we’re left instead with increasingly overwrought symbolism, a film that circles around itself but never finds it way.