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Double Feature entertaining, if a bit long

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From Hollywood classics to so-bad-they're-good cult films, from the director's chair to the theatre lobby, Owen King clearly loves the movies.

In his amusing debut novel, Double Feature, King follows Sam Dolan, a student and cinephile in New York State set to make his first feature. The ambitious film, titled Who We Are, has a clever time-shifting element that squeezes the four-year college experience into one meaningful night for a group of partying youngsters.

The story also examines the earnest Sam's relationship with his father, Booth Dolan, a boisterous character actor proud of his work in numerous exploitation movies with titles like Black Soul Riders, Hard Mommies, and Hellhole 3: Endless Hell.

Booth is best known for his only directorial effort, a B-movie classic called New Roman Empire, and his ability to be almost unrecognizable from film-to-film, thanks to his collection of prosthetic noses.

Embarrassed by his father's theatrical oeuvre, Sam is happily distanced from the older Dolan, whose feedback for his son's script is less than supportive.

Sam does, however, find support from investors, including one very generous former classmate, and even attracts an A-list actor named Rick Savini, a (fictional) regular in Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino films, who has a strange hobby of collecting memorabilia from airplane catalogues.

Though his sights are set on making the Citizen Kane for his generation, something happens with Sam's film during post-production that takes it from a potential Sundance player to the kind of cult movie -- like The Room, Showgirls or Batman & Robin -- that inspires drinking games.

Flipping back-and-forth through decades -- from 1969 to 2011 -- the story moves from the early years of Booth's marriage to Sam's unfortunate career slide into that of wedding videographer.

King's obvious love and knowledge of cinema make for some very funny moments along the way, such as Sam's specialty in creating themed wedding videos for film buffs in the styles of grindhouse movies, French New Wave or even specific directors (one happy couple requests one in the style of western legend Sam Peckinpah).

Also amusing is a series of synopses for movies playing at a local multiplex that are quite believable despite their outrageousness, including The Pit, blockbuster about a giant sinkhole that swallows Las Vegas, Fair Share, a thriller about an IRS agent-turned-serial killer, and Cheeks, the story of a good-hearted potbellied pig that brings a family closer together.

Inspired by Orson Welles, Booth is the book's most interesting character. King may have had another inspiration for the character though, as he grew up with his own famous father -- legendary horror author Stephen King.

With its themes of high vs. low art and a son trying to move out of his father's shadow, it's possible that Double Feature is semi-autobiographical. Then again, maybe not -- the author's bio makes no mention of his larger than life dad, possibly because he wants to avoid this kind of comparison.

Overall, Double Feature takes a few too many detours in its storyline and is longer than it needs to be, but movie lovers will find quite a bit to appreciate in this entertaining debut.

Alan MacKenzie is a Winnipeg-based writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2013 J7

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