Film Review: The Do-Deca Pentathlon

Sibling rivalry gets its due in this sometimes funny but slight comedy from the Duplass Brothers.

Two adult men who don’t get along particularly well attempt to settle an old score by repeating a long-ago contest in The Do-Deca Pentathlon. There’s no denying it’s funny to see grown-ups who don’t act their age, even if it’s a familiar trope. The motivations here are stronger, though, because it’s natural for two “mama’s boys” who go back to their childhood home to regress a bit. Their childish competitiveness is the most satisfying part of this feature, which was shot before brothers Mark and Jay Duplass’ more polished works, Cyrus and Jeff Who Lives at Home. Those later comedies are better plotted and budgeted a bit higher than this lo-fi effort, which is only intermittently rewarding.

Mark (Steve Zeiss) makes a long trip with his wife and son to visit Mom (Julie Vorus) for his birthday. His brother Jeremy (Mark Kelly), who seems to get by playing poker in Vegas, shows up uninvited. After Jeremy crashes a 4k fun run, narrowly beating Mark, it’s clear the boys are ready for a rematch of their 1990 contest, which ended inconclusively due to interference. At the run, the camera zooms in on parents racing with strollers in order to emphasize how out of place Mark and Jeremy’s competitiveness is in this laid-back environment—a visual gag that registers as funny in theory, not so much in reality.

That night, the boys stay up all night playing pool and ping-pong, hiding their competition from a disapproving family. Steve’s wife (Jennifer Lafleur) is worried about the strain it might put on her husband, who’s been packing on some middle-aged pounds. Steve’s son Hunter, played by the long-haired Reid Williams, ends up covering for his father and uncle.

Watching the boys’ goofier, juvenile competitions, like laser tag and leg-wrestling, elicits a few chuckles, but the Duplasses fumble whenever they try to use the brothers’ activities as commentary on their relationship. Reconciliation never feels too far away, as when the brothers must work together in order to keep their competition a secret from their family. The writer-directors provide only sketchy outlines of their characters: Mark has unnamed psychological problems and is supposed to be “taking it easy,” while Jeremy lives a single life in Vegas. Their opposite life paths make each slightly jealous of what the other one has. There’s lots of room to connect certain dots, but the characters aren’t compelling enough to warrant in-depth inspection. Amidst all the meandering, improvised dialogue, I found myself wishing for a just a few scripted lines that could cut through the rambling with a dose of clarity. The Do-Deca Pentathlon is a fairly entertaining way to pass 90 minutes, but it’s a minor effort in the Duplass Brothers’ oeuvre.