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Writer-director Sean Ellis might lose sleep some day looking back at this tale of insomnia, a sort of college-age "High Fidelity" meets "Fight Club," minus the cool music and coherence. The movie is based on Ellis' Oscar-nominated short of the same name, but "Cashback" feels more icky than award-winning.

It offers the confessions of Ben (Sean Biggerstaff), a jilted art student whose recent breakup has him staring at the walls night after night. Weeks go by, and Ben eventually decides to turn his time into extra money, taking a night shift at the local supermarket.

You'd think time spent scrutinizing co-workers and customers who lurk by canned goods at 3 in the morning would be well-spent, but most of these characterizations are conventional -- a priggish boss, some goofy dudes and a dopey but cute checkout girl (Emilia Fox). The chance to make actual, original observations, especially about the customers, is passed over in favor of an investigation into Ben's fantastic imagination.

Ben has the ability — at least in his own mind — to stop time, as if everything is a freeze frame that he can move around in, manipulate and put back before the world starts churning again. An artist (ahem), he takes this opportunity to undress all the ladies in the aisles, so as to create a unique still life that comes across as a highly stylized episode of late-night Cinemax.

Ben's behavior is presented as some kind of revelation, with ruminations on the mystery of beauty and the like. But what's so revelatory about a college guy who wants to see naked chicks, or so mysterious about the kind of beauty found in the pages of any popular magazine? I worry less about Ben and his lack of sleep and more about the guy behind the camera who thinks this is the stuff that dreams are made of. (R) S



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