Ham transcends the cheese

A mockumentary that never made it to Canadian theatres but should have, Ham & Cheese is must-see stuff for anyone with the smallest acting aspirations-the smaller the better, in fact.

The title might be a bit off-putting, but it neatly encapsulates the video-shot film's parallel subjects, the unctuous Barry Goodson and doltish Richard Wolanski, played to glorious imperfection by cowriters Jason Jones and Mike Beaver, respectively. That they have dreams dwarfing any actual talent adds pathos to the mix, but its facts of thespian life will ring true even for those who have tasted some success at "trodding the boards", as Barry would put it, with a bad British accent.

Richard is a thirtyish small-towner deluded by his mother's tone-deaf encouragement into taking a shot at the big city, meaning Toronto. His counterpart in crimes against the theatre-although they only meet once, in a hilarious, split-screen TV-spot audition-is also in deep denial. Seemingly in a happy marriage to the mousy Beth (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart correspondent Samantha Bee, Jones's real-life wife), the blandly handsome Barry is working for a local drama company-manning the phones in the marketing department. His rush to casting calls puts that gig in jeopardy while he gets to exhibit his paramount talent: sabotaging himself. He shows up an hour late for one audition and then insists on reading the part with an out-to-lunch Aussie accent.

Meanwhile, the lumpish Richard, whose audition pitch involves the Fonz as directed by Quentin Tarantino, enlists the services of a wholly uninterested acting coach, played in several movie-stealing segments (one in his underwear) by ex-Kids in the Hall guy Dave Foley. Fellow Kid Scott Thompson shows up as the no-nonsense director of a bad TV movie Barry flukes into, and then out of, when he can't get a single line-reading right.

Toronto-based Ham-helmer Warren P. Sonoda ratchets up the yuks, with each adventure being a tad more outrageous than the last. The highlight is Richard's detour into experimental theatre that has its ultimate performance "behind the abandoned sponge factory, across from the railroad tracks", with Rob Tinkler spot-on as Damien, a whacked-out artiste who uses his charisma to bed the better babes in the company. It's all sweet agony for the big doofus, in love with his ditzy leading lady (funny Jennifer Baxter, likewise married to Beaver), who flits between Richard's successful acting buddy from back home (Christian Potenza) and the loincloth-wearing Damien.

The flick's focus isn't always secure, as its mockumentary format sometimes falls away into isolated vignettes, but the tale hangs together surprisingly well for a no-budget, 14-day shoot. Mostly, our Ham-sters keep their sense of creative life grounded enough to deliver some emotion amidst the titters.

Extras on the Ham DVD include 24 deleted or alternate scenes and a unique concept: you have the option of watching two shorter films, each re-edited to focus on just one bad actor.

Speaking of cheese, Martin Short gets overexposed as Jiminy Glick in Lalawood, set at the Toronto International Film Festival. And Keanu Reeves stars in the sci-fi-schlocky Constantine, which finds him unconsciously lampooning his own role in the Matrix movies.

For all you youngsters in the audience, there's Daniel and the Superdogs, a weak Quebec attempt to break into the international kids' market. You might be better off with Dear Frankie, a family-minded film about a Scottish boy's search for his seaman father. Emily Mortimer plays the lad's resourceful mother. Disney's Ice Princess really isn't bad, especially in the scenes between Michelle Trachtenberg as a budding figure skater and Kim Cattrall as her tough coach. Fan mail from some flounder? No, it's actually Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends, Season 1 and Season 2, which have 26 and 52 episodes, respectively, of the pun-laden classic cartoon show.