Hopelessly stagebound, despite half-hearted efforts to open up what’s basically a talky two-hander, and risibly pretentious in the manner of softcore porn that’s no sexier than glossy ads for expensive perfume, “Sweet Talk” is a borderline embarrassing vanity project that brings out the worst in TV vet Peter Lefcourt (“Cagney & Lacey,” “Desperate Housewives”), who adapted his own play, and his actress wife Terri Hanauer, here making her feature directing debut. A limited theatrical run will serve only as a fleeting detour on the expressway to oblivion.
Delilah (Natalie Zea), a dour beauty desultorily employed as a phone-sex operator, is drawn out of her cynical detachment during an impulsive call from Samson (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), a blocked writer who’s obviously a free spirit because he munches on a bagel adorned with whipped cream, and favors an old-fashioned typewriter over a newfangled laptop.
After being semi-seduced by his fantasy of forbidden flirtation in pre-WWI Budapest — she’s an countess, he’s an assassin, and her inconvenient husband (John Glover) is toast — she demands that he participate in her own dreamscape, a black-and-white fantasy set in 1939 Vienna that suggests a mondo-bizarro “Letters to Penthouse” mashup of “The English Patient” and “Johnny Got His Gun.”
Game performances by attractive lead players Zea and Parise inspire equal measures of admiration and sympathy, as they bring impressive measures of conviction to laughable dialogue — “I gave you the whole Balkan War as foreplay!” “Don’t worry, one of us will remain alive to worship you!” — that repeatedly tamps down the temperature of any erotic heat.
Despite some initial suggestions that significant naughtiness is in the offing, both leads remain more or less clothed throughout, which likely will disappoint some viewers. Then again, judging from the way the filmmakers fail to provide a satisfying payoff for Samson’s early brandishing of a pistol, it’s not surprising that everyone involved in “Sweet Talk” felt unconstrained by the law of Chekhov’s gun.