Ned Rifle

With this second and probably final sequel to his 1997 film Henry Fool, indie stalwart Hal Hartley again revisits the benchmark of his own indie stalwartness. Here, in an epitome of filmmaker’s prerogative, is the son of that movie’s title character on a self-appointed quest to kill him. Now a born-again Christian, thanks to his witness-protection upbringing, young-adult Ned (Liam Aiken) blames his scoundrel father (Thomas Jay Ryan) for the incarceration of his mother (Parker Posey), details of which were developed in Hartley’s 2006 film Fay Grim. Ned gets some assistance from his uncle (James Urbaniak), an accidentally successful poet now venturing dubiously into internet comedy, and from a mysterious vixenish book-nerd (Aubrey Plaza) with a troublesome connection to the family. In a signature exchange, Urbaniak asks, “So you think it’s OK for me to be unpopular?” and Plaza replies, “Oh, I think it’s necessary.” This sounds like both a mission statement and a fan-appreciation note from Hartley, evidently still comfortable enough with crowdfunded frugality and limited release to build a modest crime caper out of dryly quirky philosophical conversations. Hartley’s own synthy score gives the movie an unfortunate extra whiff of chintziness, but there’s something special in the gameness of its cast (also including Hartley regular Martin Donovan) to dig in to his deadpan writerly dialogue. It’s as close to an adding-up as can be expected from any thrifty trilogy spread out over three decades, but surely a testament to enduring indie integrity.