For the past four seasons of “Saturday Night Live,” cast member Kyle Mooney has created a series of unique video shorts that have thrown comic curveballs at viewers with a decidedly twisted point of view. In his new film “Brigsby Bear,” Mooney takes on fanboy obsession with pop culture, creating a very odd and surprisingly touching look at a guy who is so hooked on a TV show that it becomes the center of his existence— only to learn that he is the only person who has ever seen it.

Mooney plays James Pope, a 25-year-old man-child who spends his days obsessively watching and analyzing VHS tapes of a show called “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” a cross between old Saturday-morning kids’ sci-fi shows such as “Land of the Lost” and “Barney and Friends.” The show follows an animatronic talking bear named Brigsby, who saves the universe from an evil villain called the Sun Snatcher each week while teaching seemingly sweet but bizarre life lessons.

James still lives with his parents in what appears to be their basement but is soon revealed to be part of an underground bunker in the Utah desert. His only view of the outside world comes when he climbs out into a geodesic dome at night with his father, Ted (Mark Hamill), or sits on the roof of the bunker wearing a gas mask because he has been taught that the atmosphere is toxic.

But one night, a team of police cars race towards his home and take James away, as a cop named Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) reveals that Ted and his wife were not his parents after all. They kidnapped him as a baby and had hidden him from everything in the real world, with Ted creating the “Brigsby” series — and the themed toys, posters and bedsheets that fill James’ room — solely for James’ amusement.

As James is returned to his real parents, Greg (Matt Walsh) and Louise (Michaela Watkins), and teenage sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), he finds it impossible to adjust to a world in which no one knows a thing about “Brigsby,” and he knows nothing about real life. Since “Brigsby” ended each episode with a cliffhanger, he is determined to reach closure by creating his own movie version of a grand finale, using the props that Vogel sneaks him from the police evidence room after Ted is charged with kidnapping.

“Brigsby Bear” is one of the strangest films to hit the big screen in ages, but Mooney (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kevin Costello) isn’t out to mock fanboys here. Rather, the film is alternately a valentine to the creative spirit and an intriguing exploration of what can happen if people allow their love of pop culture replace the need for the basics of human connection and living a normal life.

James’ life is so far removed from regular existence that at first it seems impossible to relate to him. But as he navigates adjusting to his real family and making friends for the first time, Mooney provides him with a sweet spirit and heart that become winning.

There are logic problems with the screenplay, requiring a huge suspension of disbelief to imagine how Ted pulled off his ruse. Yet director Dave McCary works wonders with the film’s tone, creating a deliberate and thoughtful pace that makes the film equally dramatic and comedic. He effectively immerses viewers into the film’s rural Utah setting, where people might easily create fantasies to escape their bland reality. 

McCary draws strong performances from the cast, with Walsh particularly moving as a dad trying to make up for all the things he missed out on sharing with his son as a child. Kinnear adds a warmhearted depth as Vogel, who realizes that helping James pursue his dream is the only way he can attain happiness. It’s also fun to see Hamill play a role that subverts his own reality as the focus of obsessed “Star Wars” fans.

The film has arrived with perfect timing, coming shortly after the end of Comic-Con, the convention that draws more than 130,000 people together each year in celebration of comics and pop culture. Seeing the elaborate costumes many of the attendees dress in while portraying their favorite characters, it is easy to wonder how many are just having some fun, and how many are close to being a real-life version of James.   Grade:

 

Capsule Reviews

DETROIT

Stars: John Boyega, Algee Smith, Will Poulter

Length: 143 minutes

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Rating: R

Depicting the horrifying physical and psychological abuse perpetrated by a trio of white police officers against a group of African-Americans at the Algiers Motel amid the infamous 1967 riots in Detroit, Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) has crafted a well-made but often hard to watch reminder of the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely.   Grade: A

ATOMIC BLONDE

Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

Length: 115 minutes

Directed by: David Leitch

Rating: R

The hugely fun “Blonde” places Theron in Jane Bond mode as a ruthless British super-spy who goes undercover to Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin Wall to retrieve a list of Western intel assets from Communist agents. But the sometimes-confusing plot is secondary to nonstop action in which Theron impressively wipes out anyone who gets near with fists, kicks and all sorts of weapons.  Grade: B

DUNKIRK

Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy

Length: 107 minutes

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Rating: PG-13

The story of how thousands of citizens and some brave pilots rallied to save endangered troops from the English Channel after WWII’s devastating Battle of Dunkirk immerses viewers in the heart of the action via masterful camerawork and sound. Writer-director Christopher Nolan upends war movie cliches by making it more about the overall experience than individual heroes.  Grade: A

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

Stars: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn

Length: 140 minutes

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Rating: PG-13

The final part of the prequel “Apes” trilogy possesses an epic scale, yet while the action is intense, the center of the film is a mostly depressing slog. Lead ape Ceasar tries to avenge the death of his wife and son at the hands of a vicious human military Colonel, but he and his apes wind up captured for a major portion of the film. Well-made but mostly morose. Grade: C

THE BIG SICK

Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Zoe Kazan

Length: 124 minutes

Directed by: Michael Showalter

Rating: R

Starring rising comedy star Nanjiani as a younger version of himself, “Sick” deals with the struggles he and his wife encountered early in their relationship when she endured a medically induced coma and he was caught between pressure from both sets of their parents. Managing to find strong laughs and warm emotion in a fresh twist on romantic dramedies, it’s a winner. Grade: A

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.

Length: 133 minutes

Directed by: Jon Watts

Rating: PG-13

The third launch of a Spider-Man series of films in 15 years is also the first produced by Marvel, and it pays off with an assured, fun approach that mixes plenty of laughs with the action. Michael Keaton as Vulture is one of the best Marvel villains yet, while Holland fills the shoes of 15-year-old alter ego Peter Parker with youthful energy. Grade: A