for a good time

Pic doesn't rise much above sitcom level in material or execution, but provides enough laughs and goodwill to be disarmingly entertaining.

A genial starring vehicle for talented comediennes Lauren Anne Miller and Ari Graynor, Jamie Travis’ “For a Good Time, Call … ” doesn’t rise much above sitcom level in material or execution, but provides enough laughs and goodwill to be disarmingly entertaining. Potty-mouthed yet basically harmless — one protag even turns out to be a closet virgin — this comedy about two cash-strapped Manhattanites who get ahead by operating a phone-sex service could score a modest theatrical breakout, particularly if marketed toward femme viewers who may later bring the b.f. along. Home-format deals will be solid, with remake sales possible.

Mousy Lauren (Miller) gets a rude awakening when her hunky but shallow live-in beau (James Wolk) announces he’s going to Italy for awhile on business, considers their relationship suspended while he’s there, and advises her to find her own place. Simultaneously, brash Katie (Graynor) learns the roomy apartment she inherited from grandma is no longer rent-controlled, and she’s in no position to pay the new rate alone.

Their needs would seem to dovetail perfectly, particularly since Jesse (Justin Long, pretty much stealing every scene he’s in) is gay best friend to both of them, and all three knew each other in college. Unfortunately , as explained in a flashback, the two women hated each other back then, and aren’t happy to reunite now. Still, necessity forces a truce.

The domestic vibe improves greatly when Lauren, whose workplace abruptly shutters, realizes Katie earns her keep in part as voice talent for a phone-sex service. Lauren suggests Katie would do a lot better on her own, offering to set up an independent business with herself as manager.

Soon, the two are raking in the dough and thoroughly enjoying one another’s company. After attempts to hire a second phone-sex operator (Sugar Lyn Beard) don’t pan out, Lauren decides to do the job herself, keeping it a secret from her parents (Don McManus, Mimi Rogers). Minimal subplots involve Lauren’s hopes for a publishing-house job (with Nia Vardalos as the hiring editor), and Katie’s rapport with a steady customer (Mark Webber) who might actually be boyfriend material.

With its predictable third-act crisis and resolution, “For a Good Time … ” is uncomplicatedly formulaic. But dialogue and individual scenes are good, and the spark the performers bring to them better still. (Seth Rogen, Ken Marino, Kevin Smith and others cameo as horny clients.) For all the comically naughty talk — the pic’s major source of laughs, delivered with aplomb by the leads — the script by Miller and Katie Anne Naylon (who’s published humor pieces about her phone-sex stint) isn’t much more cynical a female buddy comedy at core than “My Sister Irene.”

Making a smooth transition to features after several well-received shorts, helmer Travis manages things briskly, though even with widescreen lensing, the modest production could have used more stylistic bigscreen flair.

For a Good Time, Call …

Production

An AdScott production. Produced by Lauren Anne Miller, Katie Anne Naylon. Executive producers, Miller, Naylon, Josh Kesselman, Jenny Hinkey, Jen Weimbaum. Co-producer, Ursula Camack. Directed by Jamie Travis. Screenplay, Lauren Anne Miller, Katie Anne Naylon.

Crew

Camera (color, HD, widescreen), James Laxton; editor, Evan Henke; music, John Swihart; music supervisors, Amine Ramer, Michael Turner; production designer, Sue Tebbutt; art director, Dustin Cardwell; set decorator, Sarah Sprawls; costume designer, Maya Lieberman; sound, B.J. Lehn; assistant director, Nicolas D. Harvard; casting, Angela Demo, Barbara McCarthy. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 22, 2012. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, Justin Long, Mark Webber, James Wolk, Nia Vardalos, Mimi Rogers, Don McManus, Sugar Lyn Beard, Steven Shaw, Seth Rogen, Kevin Marino, Kevin Smith.

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