A romantic comedy about the sexual entanglements of a group of longtime pals, "Friends & Lovers" is at best only a very pale imitation of a mediocre episode of the sitcom "Friends." Lacking the show's snappy dialogue and its actors' chemistry, writer-director George Haas' debut feature offers nothing as it strains to be funny and provocative.

A romantic comedy about the sexual entanglements of a group of longtime pals, “Friends & Lovers” is at best only a very pale imitation of a mediocre episode of the sitcom “Friends.” Lacking the show’s snappy dialogue and its actors’ chemistry, writer-director George Haas’ debut feature offers nothing as it strains to be funny and provocative. A marquee cast explains its distribution, but it would take more than a few names and a recycled concept to make much of a dent in the theatrical marketplace.

Premise finds a group of twentysomething Angelenos planning their Christmas holiday when Ian (George Newbern) receives an invitation from his father (David Rasche) to join him in Park City, Utah. Though Ian is estranged from his dad, his friends convince him to take advantage of the vacation offer. Before long, the group reconvenes in the mountains, and it becomes clear that each has an agenda in his or her personal search for love and intimacy.

While Jon (Stephen Baldwin), a boorish poser, tries to seduce the buxom Aryan goddess Carla (Claudia Schiffer), the insecure David (Danny Nucci) embarks on a quest to lose his virginity. At the same time, Lisa (Alison Eastwood) struggles to articulate her feelings for her friend Keaton (Neill Barry), and Keaton’s unexpectedly pregnant sister Jane (Suzanne Cryer) gently urges Ian to reconcile with his dad. Meanwhile, a wacky German ski instructor named Hans (Robert Downey Jr.) competes for Carla’s affection, and a lanky snowboarder named Manny (Leon) joins the circle as a potential love interest.

With few exceptions, the action feels staged and the situations hopelessly contrived. Alternating scenes of men and women bonding suggest that each sex is obsessed only with the size of the other’s genitalia, leading to a predictable Jacuzzi strip scene notable more for its rare view of male frontal nudity than for the tired laughs it struggles to provoke. Likewise, a bedroom montage of various couples engaged in the act is no more than an excuse for voyeurism.

Marginally more successful are the conversations in which characters insightfully voice their concerns about finding a mate. In these scenes, Cryer and Nucci, who have the most interesting characters, also give the most textured performances. But others, especially Baldwin, edge painfully close to caricature. In Downey’s case, however, overstatement works well; an actor who can play almost anything, he’s charmingly offbeat and nearly unrecognizable in blue contact lenses and bleached hair.

Tech values are above average. Emilio Kauderer’s music, however, is often conspicuously loud.

Friends & Lovers

Production

A Lions Gate Films release of a Laguna Entertainment production. Produced by Josi W. Konski. Executive producer, Gregory Cascante. Co-executive producer, Eleanor Powell. Directed, written by George Haas; story by Haas, Neill Barry.

Crew

Camera (Foto-kem color), Carlos Montaner; editor, Barry Leirer; music, Emilio Kauderer; production designer, Ren Blanco; costume designer, Diane Kranz; sound (THX), Richard Schexnayder; line producer, Juan J. Llauro; casting, Mike Fenton, Alison Cowitt. Reviewed at Todd-AO West, Santa Monica, April 13, 1999. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Jon - Stephen Baldwin David - Danny Nucci Ian - George Newbern Carla - Claudia Schiffer Lisa - Alison Eastwood Jane - Suzanne Cryer Richard - David Rasche Keaton - Neill Barry Manny - Leon Hans - Robert Downey Jr.
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