Rami Malek signed on to play the lead in Sarah Adina Smith’s Buster’s Mal Heart before he landed his star-making Mr. Robot gig, and while performers are often embarrassed by the smaller, off-brand movies they made before their breakthrough — ask Tom Hanks about He Knows You’re Alone sometime — Buster’s Mal Heart plays now like it’s cashing in on Malek’s Robot persona. Buster (Malek) is a bearded mountain man who breaks into unoccupied vacation homes to (among other things) call radio stations and rant about the upcoming apocalypse, called the “Inversion.”
In what appear to be flashbacks, he’s a timid hotel clerk whose reality begins to unravel when a conspiracy theorist (DJ Qualls) warns him about the Inversion, which is tied to the upcoming, definitely-gonna-happen Y2K bug. In a third apparent timeline, he’s on a boat in the middle of the sea. Buster’s Mal Heart strives to be a brainy sci-fi movie like Cohesion or The Incident, which function entirely on ideas rather than action or effects. It’s less cohesive than those films, and raises issues about Buster’s unhappy domestic life that are never quite explored. Still, nobody plays barely maintained sanity like Malek, it’s fun to spot all the unintentional Mr. Robot parallels, and those unfamiliar with the show might be inspired to check it out.
Buster’s Mal Heart
Opens Friday at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.