Courtesy of cable channel ShortsHD, which also distributes Oscar-nominated short films to theaters annually, comes this program of under-30-minute flicks that adds A-list names to stories as thinly conceived and tritely executed as first-year film-school projects. Most of the films adhere to a basic setup-and-punchline structure as if 15 to 25 minutes isn’t enough time to craft a more involved narrative, despite the fact that certain TV shows manage it on a weekly basis.
Behind the camera, Neil LaBute is the best-known name and contributed two scripts, one of which he directed himself. Both employ LaBute’s trademark acerbic humor, though both telegraph their twist endings long before their 10 minutes run out. Even less ambitious is The Procession, in which Lily Tomlin gets lost leading a funeral procession with predictable, sitcom-worthy consequences, and Friend Request Pending, which wastes Judi Dench while demonstrating how cute it is to watch old people using Facebook. Not Your Time, featuring Jason Alexander as a struggling screenwriter, aims low with tired mockery of avant-garde music and glib Hollywood execs, while Prodigal, with Kenneth Branagh and Jennifer Morrison, comes off like an unpromising Syfy pilot. Finally, Colin Firth plays an annoying neighbor who keeps dropping in on Keira Knightley in Steve, the best of a lackluster bunch.