If you trimmed the hard-core action from a scuzzy-looking and luridly plotted porno quickie from the early 1970s, you'd probably have something a lot like "Little Shots of Happiness." This second feature by Todd Verow ("Frisk") isn't quite bad enough to qualify as camp, but that's not for any lack of trying. Commercial prospects are, to put it charitably, dim. Bonnie Dickenson stars as Frances, a Boston office worker who leaves her mentally unstable husband (played by Verow) and evolves into a promiscuous party animal. By day, she makes nagging phone calls to delinquent debtors for a credit-collection agency. But after her co-workers depart, she sneaks into the ladies' room and slips into a slinky black dress. Then she's ready to cruise the local bars and clubs, drinking and smoking and looking for her next one-night stand. This leads to a series of close encounters as Frances tries, with varying degrees of success, to break free of her prudish inhibitions by taking on all comers.

Largely improvised and interminably dull, “Little Shots of Happiness” appears to be some kind of allegory about a woman’s quest to reinvent herself. Or something like that. Unfortunately, neither Verow nor his actors have the faintest idea how to sustain dramatic momentum in individual scenes. Time and again, characters ramble on and on, vamping and gesticulating as they wait in vain for inspiration to strike.

Occasionally, there are signs that Verow intends his pic as a comedy. But the laughs are few and very, very far between. The one genuinely funny scene has Frances posing as a prostitute just so she will have a place to spend the night.

Pic is notably prudish when it comes to depicting Frances’ sexual activity. (Much more skin is revealed in most newspaper ads for swimsuits.) For the most part, Verow sticks to showing his heroine before and after her dalliances. Since Frances usually drinks a great deal before getting down to business, the audience is forced to endure many scenes in which Dickenson works hard at trying to appear drunk. Much like porno flicks of yesteryear, “Little Shots of Happiness” ends on a melodramatic note, with the suicide of Frances’ unpleasant husband, and the accidental death of the only guy who doesn’t try to have sex with Frances. Somehow, our heroine manages to survive this trauma.

The acting is barely adequate, tech values even less impressive, and the mix of 16mm and video formats is singularly unattractive. In short, “Little Shots of Happiness” is bad enough to drive even a teetotaler to drink.

Little Shots of Happiness

Production

A Bangor Films presentation. Produced by Todd Verow. Executive producers, L. Diane Fortier, Robert Jason. Co-producer, Lisa Correia. Directed by Todd Verow. Screenplay, Verow, James Dwyer.

Crew

Camera (color, 16mm/video), Verow; editor, Jared DuBrino; music, Milo Jones, the Jose Fist, Theta Bara, Glissenette, Noel McKenna, Lisa Sirois, Herwig Maurer, Robert Jason; post-production coordinator, Kate Conroy. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 19, 1997. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Frances ..... Bonnie Dickenson Paul ..... Todd Verow Rita ..... Linda Eknoian Kate ..... Rita Gavelis Brian ..... P.J. Marino Frances' Sister ..... Castalia Jason Lisa ..... Leanne Whitney Bill ..... Bill Dwyer Neurotic Man ..... Eric Sapp

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