'Tokyo Project' could only be worse if it were longer

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By Kevin McDonough

Elisabeth Moss has had a scary run of success. She's best known for "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Mad Men," as well as Jane Campion's acclaimed series "Top of the Lake," seen on Sundance. It's easy to forget that, as a young actress, she played President Bartlet's daughter on "The West Wing."

Given all that, it's with some degree of relief, if not schadenfreude, that I report that Moss appears in the short, bad movie "Tokyo Project" (10 p.m. Saturday, HBO, TV-MA). How short? It's about 31 minutes. How bad? It feels like three hours.

Executive produced by Lena Dunham of HBO's "Girls" and written and directed by Richard Shepard, also associated with "Girls," "Tokyo Project" is an art film that relies on references to other art films to tell its story.

Ebon Moss-Bachrach ("Girls") stars as Sebastian, a representative from a Brooklyn men's grooming product company who has flown to Japan to make a presentation. Along the way, he comes down with major jet lag, wanders about a hotel in a near-zombie state, makes cryptic calls back home to announce his fractured married life and inform us that, not unlike Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation," he's knee-deep in a midlife crisis.

"Tokyo" literally sleepwalks viewers through touristy areas as Sebastian eats alone and orders some fancy cocktails that get mixed for us in real time. When not staring at menus, Sebastian hunts down vintage film posters like some Tarantino wannabe.

An awkward reference to director Nicolas Roeg's dark 1973 screen adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's "Don't Look Now" offers a revealing insight to Sebastian's inner torment. If you don't know that movie, you're left without a clue.

Miserable Sebastian runs into a mysterious American (Moss) wandering aimlessly with a camera and uttering stilted dialogue. "Tokyo is a city of ghosts," she says.

There are reasons for her spectacularly affected performance, reasons one can't reveal without giving away a twist ending. But that surprise does not redeem this precious little movie, or explain why it takes from you the longest half-hour of your life.

Perhaps the most pleasant takeaway from "Tokyo Project" is seeing Moss appear in a dud. She's human after all.

• We're told that the new comedy "White Famous" (10 p.m. Sunday, Showtime, TV-MA) is "based on the life of" actor/comedian Jamie Foxx. Such inspirations rarely translate well on screen.

Jay Pharoah ("Saturday Night Live") stars as young comedian Floyd Mooney, who appears happy enough inspiring laughter in minor comedy clubs in black neighborhoods. His agent, Malcolm (Utkarsh Ambudkar), has other ideas and gets him a lunch with a hot white director with whom Floyd shares awkward conversations about race.

"White Famous" is long on such contrived and uncomfortable moments and very short on scenes showing us why people think Floyd is so funny.

A chance encounter with a super-producer (Stephen Tobolowsky, "Groundhog Day") results in an opportunity for Floyd to land a part in a big movie starring Jamie Foxx (as himself). Not to mention heart-to-hearts between the big star and his alter ego. They discuss the tensions between the desire to make it big and the need to keep it real. Like the "brilliant" comedy routines that we don't see, Floyd's "realness" has to be taken on faith.

At the same time, it's difficult to watch "White Famous" without finding parallels in contemporary conversations. Its focus on reaching a wider (whiter) audience without selling out has echoes in the current NFL "controversy" arising from players who have taken a stand against police brutality.

Both the show and the controversy arise from the attitudes of some who believe that it's fine for black people to "play" and "entertain," but they go too far when they dare to make white people uncomfortable.

• The new series "Make It Out Alive" (9 p.m. Sunday, Smithsonian) features interviews with people who escaped natural disasters and man-made catastrophes, from the Mount St. Helens volcano to the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis. First up: living through the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

SATURDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

College football action includes Arkansas at Alabama (7 p.m., ESPN) and Utah at USC (8 p.m., ABC).

• A neighbor's offer of free therapy may be less generous than it seems in the 2017 shocker "A Neighbor's Deception" (8 p.m., Lifetime).

• Donna celebrates as Joe faces uncertainty on the series finale of "Halt and Catch Fire" (9 p.m., AMC, TV-14).

"Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" (9 p.m., BBC America, TV-14) begins a second season.

• A 24-pound cat gets cranky on "My Big Fat Pet Makeover" (10 p.m., Animal Planet).

• Kumail Nanjiani hosts "Saturday Night Live" (11:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14), featuring musical guest Pink.

SUNDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

• Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (7:30 p.m., CBS): the DEA and the opioid crisis; a jailhouse lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court.

• Louisa's cuisine fails to impress on the second season premiere of "The Durrells in Corfu" on "Masterpiece" (8 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings).

• The Los Angeles Dodgers face a team to be announced in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series (8 p.m., TBS).

• The Denver Broncos host the New York Giants in "Sunday Night Football" (8:20 p.m., NBC).

• NFL star Rob Gronkowski pitches away on "Shark Tank" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

"Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" (9 p.m., CNN, TV-PG) explores Lagos, Nigeria.

• Nick uncovers a new threat on the season finale of "Fear the Walking Dead" (9 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

• The espionage series "Berlin Station" (9 p.m., Epix) enters a second season.

• A court ruling opens new avenues of income on "The Deuce" (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

• Civil war in Libya on "Madam Secretary" (10:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• The show's production team faces questioning on "Ten Days in the Valley" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

• On the season-ending episodes of "Survivor's Remorse" (Starz, TV-MA), a reunion (10 p.m.) and a rebuff (10:30 p.m.).

• Jane Goodall appears on "Startalk With Neil deGrasse Tyson" (11 p.m., National Geographic).

CULT CHOICE

Interior decorators purchase a coffin containing the undead remains of an African prince in the 1972 shocker "Blacula" (2:15 a.m. Sunday, TCM). Followed by "Scream Blacula Scream" (4 a.m.).

SATURDAY SERIES

Jack's past revealed on "MacGyver" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) * Emergency contacts on "Will & Grace" (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14) * "Premier Boxing Champions" (8 p.m., Fox) * Amy's daughter joins the team on "Superstore" (8:30 p.m., NBC, r, TV-PG) * Callen goes undercover on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) * A vintage helping of "Saturday Night Live" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

SUNDAY SERIES

A killer stalks Silicon Valley on "Wisdom of the Crowd" (8:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Maggie shows talent on "The Simpsons" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) * Cat videos on "America's Funniest Home Videos" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Love blooms on "Ghosted" (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14) * Counterfeit bills on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (9:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Domestic bliss on "Family Guy" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) * Mexico-bound on "The Last Man on Earth" (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

© 2017, United Feature Syndicate