With its stylistically strained reconditioning of old morality tales of misspent youth, "Body Shots" fires nothing but blanks. Blurry and undistinguished, pic uses its contempo setting as mere window dressing for an overworked variation on earlier twentysomething dramas, from "St. Elmo's Fire" to "Less Than Zero" and "The Accused," with unintentionally laughable doses of Zalman King thrown in for good measure.

With its stylistically strained reconditioning of old morality tales of misspent youth, “Body Shots” fires nothing but blanks. Blurry and undistinguished, pic uses its contempo setting as mere window dressing for an overworked variation on earlier twentysomething dramas, from “St. Elmo’s Fire” to “Less Than Zero” and “The Accused,” with unintentionally laughable doses of Zalman King thrown in for good measure. Following its preem last Thursday at the Austin Film Festival, pic will be a second- or third-choice date item at multiplexes in the short term, with a quick theatrical fade.

Writer David McKenna’s second produced script, following the often obvious dramatics of “American History X,” is no less transparent in its rote and cliched litany of what-guys-and-gals-want truisms, while helmer Michael Cristofer reassembles much of the creative team from his HBO-produced “Gia” for what is essentially an exercise in adult TV framed for widescreen.

The project exudes a lush look entombed in a self-important manner that’s culturally tone-deaf. Result is a movie full of half-baked pronouncements and dramatics that are as cutting-edge as a butter knife.

The opening reps a dramatic miscalculation in that it sets up a whodunit rather than the meandering ensemble piece that it is. As single lawyers Rick (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Jane (Amanda Peet) snuggle in bed, only to be stirred by drunk, hysterical Sara (Tara Reid), who bursts in claiming she’s been raped, expectations are created for a taut, coiled sexual mystery.

Instead, events wind back a day, over first of three act titles, “Foreplay,” to serve up a general presentation of four men and four women planning to meet at a downtown L.A. dance club. Initial impression of characters is nearly a blur, since the guys explain themselves as wanting sex, and the gals say they want sex. Sadly overdone by Cristofer, strategy to deliver the gender cliches with characters breaking the fourth wall doesn’t work from the start.

Bits of individuality eventually seep through: Rick feels he’s growing up, but isn’t sure into what; Jane feels responsible for her younger girlfriends; Mike (Jerry O’Connell) is an ex-Raiders player who’s now just looking to score in the bedroom; Sara, the youngest, wants to have fun but isn’t sure how far to go; Shawn (Brad Rowe) is a nice guy who won’t jump in the sack right away; Emma (Sybil Temchen) worries that her sexless life is making her look desperate; Trent (Ron Livingston) is a cocky, eccentric dealmaker who doesn’t care who he screws; and Whitney (Emily Procter), dressed for sex success, reveals a nighttime passion for being a dominatrix.

The attractive and bland hipsters tell us, rather than show us, much of what we learn about them, which might work better in a reconfigured concept for the stage, where Pulitzer-winning playwright Cristofer (“The Shadow Box,” “Black Angel”) has done his best work by far. Pic’s content, though, is no better than form, as when Sara, without a tad of irony, expresses this wisdom: “There’s something basic and biological about letting someone in your body.”

Main section, titled “Good Sex, Bad Sex,” wanders. Mike gets into a bloody and indecisive slugfest with a pushy bodyguard, the seemingly unlikely pair of Shawn and Emma do the nasty on a car hood, and Trent — in the closest thing this movie gets to amusing — is subjected to Whitney’s S&M whips and ends up in the gutter. Most of this is told in unnecessarily baroque morning-after flashback structure, and then is hijacked by a long, flabby account of Sara’s alleged rape by Mike, presented “Rashomon” style. Because we have such little grasp of the young and the wasted to begin with, repetitive grilling of Mike and Sara builds no tension. Epilogue, “Afterplay,” is fittingly vague and vapid.

Pic is ultimately a showcase for the latest wave of 20-ish thesps. Livingston, who made such a winning impression in the underappreciated “Office Space,” comes off most effectively because his character is the most well drawn. O’Connell skillfully exploits his monopoly on pic’s histrionics, while Flanery and Rowe look good but leave little impression. Reid neutralizes the sympathy factor by overacting her big, post-rape scenes, and the uneven Procter amuses in sex mode but strains when things get serious. Peet reveals interesting dimensions as her Jane switches into lawyer role, and Temchen suggests enough complexity to deserve a longer story of her own.

Production’s slickness — lenser Rodrigo Garcia’s lighting effects and Cristofer’s excessive slo-mo and various post-production tricks — and Mark Isham’s swoony jazz-lite score are closer to latenight adult tube fare of a decade ago than anything tellingly ’90s.

Body Shots

Production

A New Line Cinema release of a Colomby/Keaton production. Produced by Jennifer Keohane, Harry Colomby. Executive producers, Michael Keaton, Guy Reidel, Michael De Luca, Lynn Harris. Directed by Michael Cristofer. Screenplay, David McKenna.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Rodrigo Garcia; editor, Eric Sears; music, Mark Isham; production designer, David J. Bomba; art director, John R. Jensen; set designer, Daniel Bradford; set decorator, Kathy Lucas; costume designer, Carolyn Leigh Greco; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/ SDDS), Melissa S. Hofmann, Brad Sherman; supervising sound editor, Dave McMoyler; assistant director, Mary Ellen Woods; casting, Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein. Reviewed at New Line Cinema screening room, L.A., Oct. 7, 1999. (In Austin Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Rick Hamilton - Sean Patrick Flanery Michael Penorisi - Jerry O'Connell Jane Bannister - Amanda Peet Sara Olswang - Tara Reid Trent Barber - Ron Livingston Whitney Bryant - Emily Procter Shawn Denigan - Brad Rowe Emma Cooper - Sybil Temchen
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