- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

In the opening frames of James Toback’s “When Will I Be Loved,” a nude Neve Campbell lovingly showers herself in the roomy washroom of a very expensive Manhattan loft. Then she showers some more. Then she… well, let’s just say she keeps showering.

If you thought Miss Campbell, the ex-“Party of Five”-er, was naughty in “Wild Things,” you’re in for a soft-core treat here.

At the end of this dubious art movie, male viewers may find themselves asking why Miss Campbell didn’t just pose for Maxim and save them 5 bucks.

First off, the forlornness of the title is bogus. Miss Campbell’s Vera, a just-graduated art student with rich parents who exist solely for her contentment, does not lack amorous company. She has a steady boyfriend (Fred Weller) and an on-the-side girlfriend who drops by for lunch-hour trysts.

We quickly learn that the question “Do they really love her?” doesn’t apply to Vera. The more interesting question is “Does she really love them?”

Mr. Toback, a 59-year-old writer-director who has spent decades on the margins of next-big-thingness, fashioned Vera as a sort of post-feminist anti-heroine.

She’s more cunning, smarter, bolder and more clever than the grubs who surround her. She luxuriates in opulence and yet is above vulgar materialism. (One of the few commendable things about the film, shot beautifully by cinematographer Larry McConkey on Steadicam, is watching Vera’s initially bare apartment slowly become more tastefully decorated.)

Vera also luxuriates in sex but feels offended, if not threatened, by sexual interest in her. While interviewing for a researcher job with a college professor (played by Mr. Toback), she baldly sets the work-only ground rules of their prospective relationship.

Pouty and vulnerable when she needs to be, her true nature, that of a sexual conqueror, is revealed when her boyfriend, Ford, a circumlocutory hustler of entertainment entrepreneurs such as Damon Dash (who appears as himself), proposes the indecent: that she sleep with an Italian media mogul (“The Sopranos’” Dominic Chianese) whom he’s been wheedling for business.

Those are the bones of the story, and Mr. Toback can only fool the viewer into thinking there’s flesh of the metaphorical kind. Famous people such as Mike Tyson and cellist Lori Singer turn up for no particular reason, and the soundtrack seesaws between Bach and Beethoven and hip-hop.

Musically, there are two New Yorks: the chaotic bustle of cellular phones and business deals on the outside and the worldly, arty refinement found inside Vera’s loft. At one point, she’s supine on a luscious red couch (which, you’ll notice, is a character of the movie), balletically twirling her hands while a sonata plays on her stereo.

My immediate association was of Anthony Hopkins doing the same thing in “Silence of the Lambs” after having bludgeoned two cops to death, and I don’t think I’m too far off in guessing that Mr. Toback tried to write Vera with the same sort of sociopathic charm that made Hannibal Lecter such a delight.

But Miss Campbell is no Anthony Hopkins, and the 80 minutes you have to spend with her and the rest of these despicable characters is 80 minutes too long.

*

TITLE: “When Will I Be Loved”

RATING: R (Strong sexuality, nudity, profanity)

CREDITS: Written and directed by James Toback. Produced by Ron Rotholz. Cinematography by Larry McConkey. Original music by Oli “Power” Grant.

RUNNING TIME: 81 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.ifcfilms.com/loved

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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