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Kiss My Act

A charming fusion of -- of all things -- "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Punchline," ABC's "Kiss My Act" clearly spotlights Camryn Manheim's ability to play a romantic lead with the best of 'em. An entirely believable premise built around Manhattan's comedy club circuit, this well-executed telepic about relationships and the fear of rejection profits heavily from a snappy script, hilarious bits and an overall storyline that must be extremely personal to its star, who also co-exec produced.

With:
Samantha Berger - Camryn Manheim Michael True - Scott Cohen Jennie - Alexondra Lee Henry Rooney - Dabney Coleman Casey - Marlee Matlin

A charming fusion of — of all things — “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Punchline,” ABC’s “Kiss My Act” clearly spotlights Camryn Manheim’s ability to play a romantic lead with the best of ’em. An entirely believable premise built around Manhattan’s comedy club circuit, this well-executed telepic about relationships and the fear of rejection profits heavily from a snappy script, hilarious bits and an overall storyline that must be extremely personal to its star, who also co-exec produced.

Manheim has made it known (via her book, “Wake Up, I’m Fat”) that she is hardly considered a leading love interest in Hollywood; continuing on that path, “Act,” with its fundamental themes of loneliness and depression, is obviously something that means a lot to her. So with gusto to spare, she tackles the entertainment industry and public’s fear of extra pounds, utilizing pointed monologues and an enormous amount of onstage charisma to display a glaring vulnerability.

Manheim is Samantha Berger, a laugh factory bartender who writes some of the sharpest material for parade of hacks and whose dream it is to get a TV gig or a spot at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen.

Too scared to perform her own jokes, Samantha’s zings are reserved for Jennie (Alexondra Lee), her gorgeous but emptyheaded gal pal who has the killer body that usually attracts Hollywood types for all of the wrong reasons.

That’s exactly what talent scout Michael True (Scott Cohen) thinks when he sees Jennie perform for the first time. Booking stand-ups for the fest, he quickly takes to her as a potential star and eventually falls for her tight skirts and bubbly personality.

Afraid she’ll say the wrong thing (and afraid that Michael will realize she doesn’t come up with her own gags), Jennie asks Samantha to respond to his adoring e-mails and feed her all of the right words. But when Samantha gets wrapped up in the courtship, she discovers that Michael would be her perfect match if only she could get rid of a dreadfully low self-esteem brought on by the fact that she is overweight.

Manheim mines what must be some very painful stuff here, taking her image problems to the pic’s forefront by way of some very private moments. (In one “Roxanne”-like scene, she combats a heckler with a series of demoralizing one-liners about her own wasteline).

As for the other perfs, Cohen is right-on as an attractive loner who doesn’t realize the one he wants is right in front of his eyes, and Lee is a terrific dip. As a has-been yukster-turned-barfly not accustomed to the “new breed” of stand-up comedians, Dabney Coleman is, as usual, overtly sarcastic, and Marlee Matlin shows up as a best friend chock full of wisdom.

Director Duane Clark and scribe Kevin Hench bring an edge to the material, creating a mature and credible atmosphere not usually associated with soft, primetime fables. They have surrounded their stars with funny players who are quick and utterly plausible in the way they speak, behave and dream of some very big possibilities.

Tech credits are tops, with Anthony Greco’s production design a real standout. His settings and all of the locations (Toronto subs for New York) look and feel just right.

Kiss My Act

ABC, Mon. April 23, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Toronto by Laurence Mark Prods. and Berger Queen Prods. Executive producers, Laurence Mark, Ilene Amy Berg; co-executive producer, Camryn Manheim; producer, Greg Copeland; director, Duane Clark; writer, Kevin Hench.

Crew: Camera, Rodney Charters; production designer, Anthony Greco; editor, Charles McClelland; music, David Russo. 120 MIN.

Cast: Samantha Berger - Camryn Manheim Michael True - Scott Cohen Jennie - Alexondra Lee Henry Rooney - Dabney Coleman Casey - Marlee MatlinWith: Christopher Shyer, Wayne Federman, Fred Stoller, Pablo Francisco, Heath Hyche.

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