- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

One out of fours stars

TITLE: "Loving Jezebel"

RATING: R (Occasional profanity and sexual candor or vulgarity; fleeting simulations of intercourse)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Kwyn Bader

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

Easy to overlook in a weekend crowded with dubious new releases, "Loving Jezebel" isn't clever or satisfying enough to break away from any conceivable pack.

On the other hand, it is easier to mistake for a professional movie than such expendable fare as "Catfish in Black Bean Sauce." Even more to its credit, "Loving Jezebel" doesn't provoke the sort of active contempt and hostility as "Whipped," "Love & Sex" or "Beautiful."

The proliferation of so many motley attractions argues for letting "Jezebel," a relatively harmless bundle of worthlessness, slip into instant obscurity on its own recognizance.

One even might argue that it enjoys a trifling superiority to "The Ladies Man," which pretends to be a major studio sex farce. The same title would be appropriate, because "Jezebel" purports to chronicle the mostly hapless amorous history of a young man named Theodorus Melville, a name that seems to plead for mercy.

Portrayed by Hill Harper upon reaching teen-age immaturity, Theo is the offspring of what appears to be a serene and comfortable mixed marriage. His mother is played by Phylicia Rashad, acquiring another Theo but not a significant acting opportunity.

According to the protagonist, he suffers from recurrent crushes and betrayals that began in kindergarten with a fickle flirt named Nikki Noodleman, also an overcalculated handle.

Skipping ahead to high school years, writer-director Kwyn Bader introduces Mr. Harper as a virginal geek who succumbs to a best friend's girlfriend, Nina Clarise (Heather Gottlieb), who lures him into 30 seconds of ecstasy, terminating his virginity and the fling simultaneously.

Then Theo's on to the university, where he begins encountering rather exotic creatures who duplicate each other with curious and somewhat confusing frequency after graduation.

The prototype is Nicole Ari Parker as a voluptuous coed named Frances, who seems to be headed for show business or its fringes.

After graduation, she is echoed by a pair of sultry numbers with British accents, Sandrine Holt as Mona and Lysa Aya Trenier as June.

Theo seems to find a shy, unhappily married poetess named Samantha (Laurel Holloman) more to his specifications. I suppose there's a certain logic here, because she appears to need him more than Frances, Mona and June, better equipped to fleece a half-dozen sugar daddies apiece.

Mr. Bader is not without some promise and facility as a humorist. There are occasional scenes in which the ludicrous or tender things that men and women might confide to each other seem to be reflected accurately in his smitten characters. I also liked a classroom interlude in which Theo stirred a teacher to tears with his summary of "Romeo and Juliet."

Mr. Bader has been involved in less trifling projects, notably the TV movie about the Tuskegee Airmen. On the face of things, his next script, said to revolve around expatriate black Americans in Paris during the 1940s, sounds much more intriguing than the mildly lewd patty-cake of "Loving Jezebel."

Everyone who aspires to direct has to rationalize a first feature of some kind. This one falls comfortably short of either disgrace or distinction.

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