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'Buster's Mal Heart': Before 'Mr. Robot'

'Buster's Mal Heart': Before 'Mr. Robot'

© Gamechanger Films

Rami Maleck pretty much cornered the market on bizarre/brilliant manic depressives with his Emmy-winning performance on cable’s “Mr. Robot.”

“Buster’s Mal Heart,” shot before “Robot” began production, allows the young actor to mine several alternate personalities. He’s good at all of them.

Written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith (“The Midnight Swim”), “Buster’s Mal Heart” offers an out-of-chronology history of its title character.

When we first meet Buster he’s racing up a wooded mountainside, a posse of lawmen on his tail.

But we also see him with long hair and beard in a remote tourist cabin and in a lifeboat afloat at sea.

Most of the screen time, though, is devoted to his life as a husband and father in the Pacific Northwest.

Clean-cut and polite, Buster seems disarmingly normal. He’s kind and gentle with the wife (Kate Lynn Shiel) and appears to be a model employee of the semi-posh hotel where he’s the night desk clerk. 

It’s during one of those all-night shifts that Buster meets a mysterious traveler (D.J. Qualls) who fills his head with paranoid talk about “the great inversion” and the looming Y2K-fueled meltdown of modern society. Something about the stranger’s urgency rubs off on Buster who will make the mistake of comping the fellow a free room.

As a result of that misstep, Buster will become a fugitive, living in the woods and often breaking into the luxurious summer cabins that dot the forest.

As for those shots of him afloat at sea . . . well, let’s not go there.

In whatever guise, Malek is an imminently watchable, compelling presence. So much so, that he fools us into believing that there’s more going on in this movie than there really is.

Robert Butler

Robert W. Butler joined the staff of the Kansas City Star in 1970 and from 1977 to 2011 was the paper's movie reviewer.

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