Complicated comic maneuvers turn what should have been a hip look at sexuality into an antsy pic too busy to settle down. Writer-director Jane Weinstock's use of short scenes, ensemble cast and conventional camerawork make "Easy" resemble a movie geared to cable -- where it will do just fine -- rather than the bigscreen, where it won't.

Increasingly complicated comic maneuvers turn what should have been a hip look at sexuality into an antsy pic too busy to settle down. Part of this fidgety nature is endemic to the uncertainty that grips Jamie (Marguerite Moreau) as she tries to ditch her nympho habits. But tyro writer-director Jane Weinstock’s use of short scenes, an ensemble cast and conventional camerawork make “Easy” resemble a movie geared to cable — where it will do just fine — rather than the bigscreen, where it won’t.

The influence of Robert Altman, and particularly Altman’s protege, Alan Rudolph, is felt all through pic, as it aims to keep up with the comings and goings of a group of smart, multicultural types who live in various corners of Los Angeles. Jamie, whose curious job naming consumer products is just one tip-off to the comedy’s arch eccentricity, is at the center of things, and her evenings always seem to end with her in the sack with some new guy.

For reasons never explored, Jamie seems to have some guilt about her lifestyle, even though she clearly loves sex. She almost puts off swooningly handsome poet — her former teacher — John (Naveen Andrews), but can’t resist him. When he seems to fall for Jamie, she takes it as an invitation of something like monogamy, but his ex-g.f. unexpectedly shows up to pull them apart, conveniently sending Jamie off on a mission: To maintain 90 days of celibacy.

Her support group includes sister Laura (Emily Deschanel); kooky Irish cable chat-show host Mick (Brian F. O’Byrne) and Sandy (Caroline Goodall), his lesbian assistant who’s also his ex-wife; Jamie’s neighbor Martin (D.B. Woodside); and her architect father Lawrence (John Rothman).

None of these characters in Weinstock’s script — particularly Mick and John — can go very long without either throwing a wrench into Jamie’s plans or providing the story with a comic twist. And every time Jamie sees something she believes to be true, another revelation makes her appear foolish. These are viable conceits on paper, but their artificiality clashes with the pic’s quasi-realist shooting and staging, as well as the actors’ casual performing style.

By the time Jamie finds herself in love with Mick and then thinking she’s seen him cheating with another gal, the film has reduced her to merely reacting to the latest nutty turn of the screw. It’s frustrating, since Moreau is an engaging, thinking actor, and most of the rest of the likable ensemble has a firm grasp on their character types. Types they remain, though — and “Easy” never delves below its semi-farcical surface.

Vid lensing (with a good film transfer) by Paul Ryan takes this gifted cinematographer away from his real metier in celluloid; experiment may well have helped actors work in a looser way in mostly tight interiors, but it leaves pic with an unremarkable look that seems like a waste of a great talent. City of Angels is well captured in its indoor state by a crew that really knows the town.

Easy

Production

An Over Easy Prods. presentation. (International sales: Over Easy Prods., Santa Monica.) Produced by Gloria Norris. Executive producer, James Welling. Co-producer, Olivia Harris. Directed, written by Jane Weinstock.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Paul Ryan; editors, Robert Hoffman, Lauren Zuckerman; music, Grant-Lee Phillips; music supervisor, Howard Paar; production designer, Aradhana Seth; art director, Katherine Bulovic; set decorator, Anna Schlobohm de Cruder; costume designer, Mona May; sound (Dolby Digital), Steven Hitselberger; supervising sound editor, John Nutt; assistant director, Alan Edmisten; casting, Olivia Harris. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Discovery), Sept. 10, 2003. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Jamie - Marguerite Moreau Mick - Brian F. O'Byrne John - Naveen Andrews Laura - Emily Deschanel Sandy - Caroline Goodall Martin - D.B. Woodside Lawrence - John Rothman

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