An American audience might be fooled into thinking that The Man Who Copied is a Rob Schneider "Saturday Night Live" spinoff, and the man at the center of this Brazilian movie could indeed be a distant relative of Schneider's socially inept office worker with a fixation on silly nicknames. André, the bookstore photocopier operator in writer-director Jorge Furtado's film, is an aspiring cartoonist with no money and no confidence with women. But what begins as a likeable tale of his budding romance devolves into something else entirely: a crime caper in which even the most innocent-seeming party has a jarring personality change.

Lázaro Ramos, who won acclaim as a fiery drag performer in Madame Sata, plays André, who lives with his mother in the town of Porto Alegre and each night spies through binoculars at Silvia (Leandra Leal), a teenage girl who lives in the opposite building. Once André works up the courage to speak to Silvia at the clothing store where she clerks, he commits to buying a robe for his mother that he can't possibly afford. In desperation, he prints a painstaking photocopy of a $50 bill, exchanges it for real money at a lottery counter, makes his purchase, and gets to know Silvia better. Partnered with new best friend Cardoso (Pedro Cardoso), André meticulously runs off more currency to help improve Silvia's lifestyle.

The story takes a dark turn when André's surveillance reveals that Silvia's father is an abusive letch who spies on her as she showers. Determined to start a new life with Silvia in Rio, André realizes that his modest money machine isn't going to pay the bills, and he plots a bank robbery. Ironically, soon after he completes the caper (not without some unexpected bloodshed), he discovers that one of the lottery tickets he's been buying with his false bills has paid off big-time.

The Man Who Copied is stylish and colorful, with sporadic animated sequences illustrating both André's art and his dreams. Ramos and Leal have a self-effacing charm, and Cardoso provides quirky comic relief as a neurotic would-be womanizer; Luana Piovani is equally offbeat as the object of his desire, a sultry co-worker of André's who is saving her "technical virginity" for a wealthy suitor. But what begins as a rather disarming portrait of the struggling young working class takes an unwelcome hairpin turn into noir territory. The appealing lead foursome, even sweet Silvia, prove themselves shockingly amoral and occasionally lethal. André's sudden criminal efficiency and Silvia's thirst for vengeance especially don't conform to the reticent, good-natured people we've followed in the movie's first half.

With all the makings of a good movie, The Man Who Copied ultimately produces a ragged facsimile of film noir clichés.
-Kevin Lally