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The Oh in Ohio

"The Oh in Ohio." Amusing indie comedy blithely blurs the line between risque and raunchy, often to hilarious effect. With shrewd marketing, pic could click with adult auds during theatrical run, and make a bigger splash as homevid fare.

If the Farrelly Brothers were to film their version of a naughty, bawdy dinner-theater trifle from the ’70s, the result likely would resemble “The Oh in Ohio.” Amusing indie comedy blithely blurs the line between risque and raunchy, often to hilarious effect. With shrewd marketing, pic could click with adult auds during theatrical run, and make a bigger splash as homevid fare.

The titular “Oh” stands for orgasm, a state of sexual arousal that has remained consistently elusive for Priscilla (Parker Posey) throughout a decade of marriage to Jack (Paul Rudd). And while Priscilla claims she is perfectly satisfied with their lovemaking, Jack is growing increasingly frustrated by his inability to fully excite his wife.

Worse, he’s also nearing premature burn-out as a high school teacher — making him all the more vulnerable to the alluring appeal of Kristen (Mischa Barton), a willowy student who wants to ease his pain.

While Jack grapples with temptation — far less successfully, it should be noted, than Kevin Spacey’s character in “American Beauty” — Priscilla seeks help from a flamboyant sex guru (Liza Minnelli) who advises a do-it-yourself approach. Priscilla normally channels most of her time and energy into her PR job of attracting industry to Cleveland (where pic was shot). But, after breaking down and buying a vibrator from a slinky lesbian sex-shop salesclerk (unbilled Heather Graham), she becomes addicted to self-stimulation, to the point of finding inventive new uses for her vibrating cell phone. Latter twist cues an uproarious set piece that plays like equal parts soft-core porn and “I Love Lucy” while showcasing Posey’s talent for physical comedy.

When Jack moves out of the house (and, of course, into an affair with Kristen), Priscilla finds an unlikely Mr. Right: Larry (Danny DeVito), a paunchy and balding swimming pool mogul who’s two or three decades her senior. Despite the age difference, however, he’s even better than a battery-operated appliance when it comes to causing climaxes.

Working from clever but uneven script by Adam Wierzbianski, helmer Billy Kent relies on his strong cast to get pic through occasional bumpy spots. DeVito gives a thoroughly engaging and surprisingly sweet performance in a role that other thesps might have overplayed unattractively. He cracks wise with gusto, but expresses emotion with heart. That goes a long way toward keeping “The Oh in Ohio” on an even keel as it shifts gears in the final reels, moving from broad farce to romantic comedy.

Posey gracefully maneuvers a tricky transition of her own, tracing an arc from uptight denial to lusty excess to serene self-confidence. (Her final line is the perfect capper for both her character and the pic itself.)

Rudd is at his funniest while Jack stews in discontent, spewing barbed commentary that indicates serious self-loathing. He’s also adept at infusing romantic longing with sardonic, self-deprecating wit.

Keith David brings a touch of sly-fox mischievousness to his supporting turn as Jack’s best buddy, while Barton is appealing and poised as the mature-beyond-her-years Kristen. Minnelli and Robert John Burke (as Kristen’s father) score laughs while demonstrating how to score maximum impact in single-scene cameos.

Overall tech package is impressive enough to suggest Priscilla would approve of pic as suitably image-enhancing for Cleveland.

The Oh in Ohio

  • Production: A Cold Iron Pictures presentation in association with The AV Club of an Ambush Entertainment production. Produced by Amy Salko Robertson, Francey Grace, Miranda Bailey. Executive producers, Debra Grieco, Matthew Leutwyler, Jun Tan. Co-producer, Julie Sandor. Directed by Billy Kent. Screenplay, Adam Wierzbianski.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Ramsey Nickell; editors, Michael R. Miller, Paul Bertino; music, Bruno Coon; production designer, Martina Buckley; costume designer, Bruce Finlayson; sound (Dolby Digital), Patrick M. Griffith; assistant director, Jude Gorjanc; casting, Monica Mikkelsen. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Spotlight Premiere), Austin, Texas, March 13, 2006. Running time: 91 MIN.
  • With: Priscilla - Parker Posey Jack - Paul Rudd Wayne - Danny DeVito Kristen - Mischa Barton Sherri - Miranda Bailey Alyssa Donahue - Liza Minnelli Coach - Keith David Robert John Burke - Binky Bartlett <b>With:</b> Heather Graham.
  • Music By: