Much as I value independence in art, it’s possible for a filmmaker to crawl so far onto his own wavelength that he loses touch with everything else. The writer-director Hal Hartley loves crafting hip, affectless epigrams for his characters the way that some people love popping those little bubbles in plastic packaging material. Hartley, who has been called Long Island’s answer to Jean-Luc Godard, had an indie hit with ”Henry Fool,” an agony-of-late-bohemia comedy released in 1998, but he has now gone off and made his flakiest folly yet. The heart of No Such Thing is a duet between Sarah Polley, as a tabloid-television assistant who recovers from a grueling spinal injury, and a sozzled, garrulously ill-tempered monster – yes, a monster – who skulks around the rocky moors of Iceland, looking like a homeless Ted Nugent doing an alien guest appearance on ”Star Trek: Enterprise.”
The film wants to be Hartley’s absurdist gloss on ”Beauty and the Beast,” and Robert John Burke, as the monster, has a snappish impatience that’s desperate and funny. But Hartley, in what is either a failure of passion or a fear of it, gives this derelict-saint of a creature no special quality of lyrical desire; he’s just a bum with a horned face. Hartley is trapped between sincerity and mock sincerity, and that all but dooms a filmmaker to slipping through the cracks.