- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

"Just a Kiss" is just a lewdly facetious trifle, but it perpetuates the wretched state of the New York romantic comedy. Quite a bit of pocket money would have accumulated if a dollar had been collected for every dismal example from "Sidewalks of New York" last year to "Just a Kiss" this weekend.

Originally envisioned as a play, "Kiss" doesn't emerge decisively enhanced by cinematic attributes, notably the insertion of animated touches, extending from the occasional prop or close-up to an extended cartoon sequence designed to exaggerate the hilarious potential in a plane crash.

The author, Patrick Breen, also plays a principal role, as a sad-sack actor named Peter, making it easier than usual to place the blame for a dud on a specific face. The director, Fisher Stevens, a vaguely familiar character actor since the 1980s, was recently in "Undisputed," so frequent moviegoers will be able to match a face to Mr. Breen's in a kind of fanciful two-shot of shame.

Their offense is to play blithely malicious, moronic and hypocritical with a sex farce about infidelity, a weakness that seems to be contagious in the set imagined by Mr. Breen. A nympho dancer named Rebecca, played by Marley Shelton, blabs about a purported fling with Dag (Ron Eldard), the boyfriend of her best friend, Halley (Kyra Sedgwick).

It's possible that Rebecca is a compulsive liar and exaggerates a fleeting kiss shared with Dag when they happened to be working in Europe. He supposedly is prosperous from directing commercials all over the world. The shock of Rebecca's story prompts Halley to move out and seek temporary lodging with Rebecca, of all people.

The apartment lacks Rebecca at the moment, but Halley does run into another tenant, a cellist named Andre (Taye Diggs), also being staked to sleeping quarters. He and Rebecca have been consorting. He seduces Halley overnight, a foregone conclusion in this context.

We have seen Dag consorting overnight with a wild thing (Idena Menzel) who calls herself Drea when drunk and Linda when hung over. Inexplicably, she never returns.

As Rebecca's naive boyfriend, a fixture in a peanut-butter commercial who mimics George C. Scott as Gen. George S. Patton Jr., Mr. Breen becomes downcast but fails to pair off with the similarly betrayed Miss Sedgwick. He's placed on the would-be catastrophic plane flight, where he is instantly seduced by Sarita Choudhury as an amorous flight attendant named Colleen, also reported to be the wife of Andre the same Andre tucked under Manhattan covers with Halley.

To complete the mismatches, Marisa Tomei enters as a sexual predator named Paula who gets a crush on Peter but doesn't mind playing Dag for a fool. When the filmmakers get an attack of sick humor, Paula pretends to be a nurse at a hospital and induces a suicide in one of her rivals. In the immediate aftermath, three characters end up pretending to be corpses.

Tiring of this fake-out, the filmmakers confirm that they have just been kidding all along. Nothing that happens in "Just a Kiss" can be taken to heart. All the episodes should be written off as idle speculation about what can happen if you let one arguably harmless little kiss snowball into shameless lust and deceit.

The nature of the runaround is too stale and pitiful to justify humorous gratitude or tolerance. It's difficult to ignore the irksome insincerity and feebleness of the presentation.

The misguided cast is sometimes joined by a senior mascot: Zoe Caldwell, supposedly the foulmouthed and sex-starved mother of Rebecca. Grandmother probably would make more sense, on the face of things, but it's the sort of guest cameo that really should be reserved for an aging porn actress.

Mr. Breen reserves the privilege of pretending to flash her, a command performance. The humiliating things that actors may think of when time hangs heavy and inspiration refuses to cooperate are on abject, cautionary display in "Just a Kiss."


1/2*

TITLE: "Just a Kiss"

RATING: R (Preoccupation with sexual promiscuity and depravity in a facetious framework; occasional profanity, fleeting nudity and simulations of intercourse)

CREDITS: Directed by Fisher Stevens. Written by Patrick Breen.

RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes

MAXIMUM STAR RATING: FOUR STARS

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