In one of the most infamous scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Zed rapes Marsellus Wallace to the strains of moody surf music. Tarantino originally wanted to use the Knack’s “My Sharona” for the scene, but in retrospect he was glad he couldn’t get the rights: “It would have been too cutely comic. I like using stuff for comic effect, but I don’t want it to be har, har, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, you know?” The makers of the would-be horror comedy Gravy have no such qualms, freely sprinkling its pop soundtrack with cheery pop songs from “La Bamba” to “Walking on Sunshine.” It’s a cheap ironic device that’s too cute the first time; throughout the length of the feature film in which this device is used for nearly every scene of brutal violence, it’s insufferably smug.

Actor-writer-director James Roday quickly announces his intentions when he establishes that his film takes place at a restaurant called Raoul’s. That nod to Paul Bartel’s rawer but better-cooked black comedy is the kind of cute, knowing, obvious level of discourse that Gravy delivers. Despite a few performances that are better than the movie deserves, and copious amounts of gore, the plot never comes even close to a boil.

A prelude sets the tone for what might have been a different movie. On the night of All Hallow’s Eve, Anson (Michael Weston) wanders into a rundown convenience store that seems abandoned, but soon bunny costume-wearing clerk Bethany (Sarah Silverman) comes to meet-cute with her customer. In a strangely written conversation that is still reasonably delivered by the actors, Anson and Bethany soon find they share a love of pop culture (Tears for Fears plays over the PA) and sorbet. The pair somehow finds a connection, and Bethany, carefully eyeing the store’s surveillance camera, lets Anson know that she’ll give him the sorbet for free. It’s a minor transgression, but as the night progresses Anson will hunger for more extreme forms of nourishment.

Enter Raoul’s, a Mexican restaurant whose motley staff has just closed up shop to get ready for their respective Halloween plans. Anson and his friends Stef (Jimmi Simpson) and Mimi (Lily Cole) have other plans, blocking the restaurant’s exits and tying up its staff. It soon becomes apparent that this is no robbery but instead a vicious plan for the criminal trio to kill and eat their victims.

With a more inventive script, this could have been Die Hard in a Restaurant. The easygoing Weston has an unsettling criminal chemistry with Simpson, whose dry sadism comes right out of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. But co-writers Roday and Todd Harthan, who worked on the TV series “Psych,” haven’t created characters so much as grotesques: a loud-mouthed security guard (Gabourey Sidibe), a cartoonish French chef (Lothaire Bluteau) and a spoiled debutante (Molly Ephraim) whose demise is clumsily foreshadowed when she looks at the restaurant’s huge aquarium and laments that it “will be the death of me.” These are people you expect to die and want to die. One of the few sympathetic characters, Kerry (Sutton Foster) is the heroine by default, but the plot doesn’t make good use of the restraints of the film’s single location, plodding from room to room and building what little tension it does by gross-out gore. Fans of cannibal movies may be satisfied enough by the buckets of blood, but cinephiles who actually want their horror movies to be good won’t ask for seconds of this Gravy.

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