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Just a Little Harmless Sex

Exactly what constitutes "just a little harmless sex" and how it affects men, women and relationships are the subjects of this intermittently entertaining, briskly paced romantic comedy.

Laura - Alison Eastwood Alan - Robert Mailhouse Marilyn - Rachel Hunter Alison - Kimberly Williams Elaine - Lauren Hutton Chuey - Tito Larriva Danny - Jonathan Silverman Terianne - Jessica Lundy Jeff - Michael Ontkean Brent - William Ragsdale

Exactly what constitutes “just a little harmless sex” and how it affects men, women and relationships are the subjects of this intermittently entertaining, briskly paced romantic comedy. While love, sex and discord among twentysomethings are hardly novel issues these days, pic crackles with fresh, witty dialogue and an engaging cast that should bolster its appeal to audiences looking for love beyond “Notting Hill.”

Wasting no time setting up its initial conflict, the story finds married, monogamous Alan (Robert Mailhouse) felled by a judgment call. Driving home one rainy night, Alan stops to pick up an attractive stranded motorist who promptly offers him oral sex. As fate would have it, she’s a prostitute, and Alan has barely begun to enjoy his first extramarital dalliance when cops arrive and arrest him. Title sequence, accompanied by the ironic riff “Isn’t It Romantic,” efficiently fills out this opening bit, winding up with Alan’s wife, Laura (Alison Eastwood), awakening to a 3 a.m. call from the police.

Zipping ahead a few days after the incident, Alan and pals Danny (Jonathan Silverman) and Brent (William Ragsdale) discuss his predicament. How, they ask, could Alan have been so naive? What woman who’s not a hooker would perform fellatio so freely? Though Alan craves Laura’s forgiveness, she’s busy drinking away her woes with freewheeling girlfriends Ally (Kimberly Williams) and Danny’s ex, Terianne (Jessica Lundy). Having excised Alan’s face from every photograph (and there are dozens), Laura and friends decide to doll themselves up for a night out.

Each of the women has her own sex-inflected agenda: Laura wants to forget her troubles with a little harmless sex of her own; tomboy Ally harbors a secret desire to be a go-go dancer; and Terianne, on the make since her split from Danny, has never experienced an orgasm. Meanwhile, Danny and Brent try to salve Alan’s guilty conscience with the phallocentric Clintonian rationalization that oral sex, uh, isn’t really sex.

Determined to apologize, Alan drags Danny and Brent back to his home, but the girls have already left. In their place emerges Laura’s estranged mother, Elaine (a still-gorgeous Lauren Hutton), who wastes no time making sexual overtures to Brent and Danny but advises Alan to go find Laura. Eventually guys, girls and Mom all meet up at a nightclub where the three narrative strands unspool: Laura goes off to neck with her yoga instructor (Michael Ontkean); teetotaler Ally downs a pitcher of margaritas and stages an impromptu dance; and Terianne may finally have her orgasm.

Though the nightclub sequence runs long and feels contrived, what saves it, and the film as a whole, from being utterly predictable is its zesty dialogue, rife with pop-psychology references to mags like Cosmo, and its swift pacing. Though the women almost invariably get the better lines, Marti Noxon and Roger Miller’s script does justice to both genders. Helmer Rick Rosenthal keeps the tone light and breezy, and lenser Bruce Surtees gives the proceedings a high-gloss sheen that maximizes the merits of an attractive cast. Credible thesping, especially from Williams, reveals surprising pockets of vulnerability.

Upbeat music by Tito Larriva, who plays a chef-singer-sage (coupled with an underused Rachel Hunter), nicely enhances the proceedings.

Just a Little Harmless Sex

Production: A Phaedra Cinema release of an Isn't It Romantic presentation of a Miss Q production. Produced by Deborah Capogrosso, Rick Rosenthal. Co-producer, Jamie Beardsley. Directed by Rick Rosenthal. Screenplay, Marti Noxon, Roger Miller.

Crew: Camera (FotoKem color), Bruce Surtees; editor, James Austin Stewart; music, Tito Larriva; music supervisor, Jen Miller; production designer, Amy Danger; art director, Joseph Dunn; set decorator, Dianne Kalem Karis; costume designer, Kelly Zitrick; sound (Dolby), Stewart Pearce; associate producer, Jen Miller; assistant director, Justin Miller; casting, Rene Haynes, Cathy Henderson-Martin, Don Zuckerman. Reviewed on videocassette, L.A., June 9, 1999. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: Laura - Alison Eastwood Alan - Robert Mailhouse Marilyn - Rachel Hunter Alison - Kimberly Williams Elaine - Lauren Hutton Chuey - Tito Larriva Danny - Jonathan Silverman Terianne - Jessica Lundy Jeff - Michael Ontkean Brent - William Ragsdale

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