As fleeting as an afternoon delight, TV vet Ken Kwapis’ “Sexual Life” tags along with a disparate group of contemporary Angelenos tussling with issues under the sheets. Ostensibly inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s cyclical play, “La Ronde” (though the source isn’t cited in credits), this semi-comedy of manners and hormones suffers from being much too neat and tidy, aesthetically and dramatically sweeping aside a lot of the messiness that comes with sex. Although it may never get into moviehouses outside of a fest or two, eventual cable and vid is a lock through Showtime, which financed pic as part of its new indie division.
Pic is lusty and filmed well enough for a Showtime platform, while not nearly as daring in its look at heterosexual concerns as is such a Showtime standard as “Queer as Folk” in the exploration of homosexuality. And as the most recent in a string of Schnitzler modernizations, including Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” and David Hare’s play, “The Blue Room” (also derived from “La Ronde”), this feels disconnected from the author’s Viennese and Freudian stewpot of desires, dreams and dangers.
Kwapis constructs a daisy-chain narrative a la Schnitzler in which each major character has one degree of separation from the other. It starts with teen hooker Lorna (Azura Skye), who seems on the verge of quitting her day-and-night job when she has an hour with client Todd (Tom Everett Scott), a pro wedding photographer. She’s an experiment for Todd, who’s on the verge of doing it with a gal he’s dating, Sarah (Elizabeth Banks), who at first appears discombobulated in bed.
Actually, her problem is that she has too many men in her life, including her boss, Josh (James LeGros), at a development firm. While Sarah struggles with Todd in bed, she and Josh go for a quickie at a property site. Josh, in turn, has his wife, Gwen (Anne Heche), to worry about, and in the scene that’s truest to Schnitzler, the couple try to re-ignite their libidos by play-acting that they’re strangers on a date.
Gwen’s nevertheless suspicious about Josh (an office party with Sarah and Todd hints at it), and in a pique of vengeance, goes on a lunch date at a hotel with an old flame (Steven Weber), but ends up jumping the bones of desk clerk David (Eion Bailey). The merry-go-round continues with Rosalie (Kerry Washington), who can’t get over her desires for David even as her wedding to Jerry (Dule Hill) approaches. Ultimately, it’s buyers’ remorse all around.
The deliberate choreographing of these characters and their encounters half-heartedly tries to recall “La Ronde,” and even Max Ophuls’ elegant film version, but lacks focus in a Los Angeles where residents struggle just to get together. For instance, the dated sense of Lorna’s gold-hearted hooker clashes with modern realities; a rougher, more chaotic “La Ronde” for the new century would be the right choice, but Kwapis (whose pedigree includes “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Malcolm in the Middle”) is still too wed to the tube and its tidy formulas.
Perhaps the pic’s most pleasant surprise is Heche, reasserting herself as an actor of subtlety and energy whose scenes play on multiple levels. Bailey, Scott and Hill, as the key men in the chain, are all a bit too contained. Long-timers Shirley Knight and Fionnula Flanagan leave lasting impressions in their single scenes.
Digital vid lensing by Edward Pei is smooth and sunny, contrasted by Cliff Eidelman’s more cerebral, serial-styled chamber music, performed onscreen during one scene.