One evening in Los Angeles, a group of disgruntled German tourists land in a Chinese restaurant, sharing the room with a series of locals dealing with their own personal problems.
But then none other than actor David Hasselhoff himself enters the restaurant, causing a minor stir, especially among the Germans. The icon, aware of the effect he’s having, swoops into the fray, solving their issues and revealing himself as a man of many talents — and as heroic as the famous characters he’s played.
The comic short — directed by Sebastian Stenhoj and written by Harry Chaskin — possesses a sly, offbeat wit that derives most of its humor from upending expectation and exploring the collision of sensibilities within a fascinatingly hermetic world.
The film’s style is reminiscent of early Jim Jarmusch, not just with its luminous black-and-white cinematography but with its focus on how eccentric personalities co-exist within a self-contained milieu. And also like Jarmusch, the storytelling and style explore the condition of foreignness and being a “stranger in a strange land” with intelligence and humor.
This particular “strange land,” though, is celebrity culture in Los Angeles. In a world saturated with pop culture — and where many people feel intense emotional attachment to worlds, figures and stories that seem more vivid than reality — our cultural imagination can make existing in everyday life seem odd, strange, flat or simply just boring.
But in Hollywood, famous actors, musicians and others pop up in places both heightened and banal, mixing the quotidian with the imaginative and creating a unique tension that’s productively explored in this short. The subtle, smart writing plays with this central dilemma of today’s star system, in which audiences both revel in and are disappointed by the idea that stars are “just like us.”
The joke, of course, is that the Hoff more than lives up to his heroic reputation, saving the proverbial day for most of these bickering, bedeviled characters. Hasselhoff plays himself with subtlety, charm and a disarming self-awareness that’s great fun to watch. He just wants to pick up his takeout in peace, but seeing the buzz his presence creates, he deals with each set of character with verve — and reveals himself to be both more multi-dimensional than anticipated — and just as amazing as Knight Rider.
“To Live and Dine In L.A.” is a self-assured comic gem that’s smart and impeccably calibrated to highlight its biggest asset, thanks to sharp writing and supremely stylish visuals. Beyond Hasselhoff himself, what’s most surprising about the story is how uncynical and even deeply human it is. It is easy to drift through the world, sealed off in our own bubble and unaware of the other small worlds in our vicinity — but it takes a hero like David Hasselhoff to look up from our self-absorption and make us aware of strange charm and wonder around us.