- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

"Full Frontal," a worthless and disgraceful beau geste from a prestige filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh, doesn't subject cast members to literally naked camera exposure. Rather more insidious, it makes them look like chumps for aiding and abetting Mr. Soderbergh while he indulges an idle whim: to demonstrate that he still can operate with the methodology of a "guerrilla filmmaker," shooting fast and dirty on digital video equipment while vaguely mocking the movie business.

Spectators inclined to admire and perhaps envy the mainstream versatility of Mr. Soderbergh while he finessed the hat trick of "Erin Brockovich," "Traffic" and the remake of "Ocean's Eleven" may be justifiably baffled by a gesture as vain and alienating as "Full Frontal," which facetiously scrambles the comings and goings of several people in Los Angeles over 24 hours.

Julia Roberts, who won her Oscar as Erin Brockovich, may not have noticed that she was poorly showcased in "Ocean's Eleven." Indeed, she couldn't seem to stand, walk, dress or speak adequately. Nevertheless, she's back, fronting for the motley cast party of "Full Frontal."

She belabors coyness in a dual role: at first sight a celebrity journalist for Los Angeles magazine named Charlotte, encountered interviewing an actor named Calvin (Blair Underwood) on a plane, then revealed as an actress named Francesca who isn't harboring a comparable yen for Mr. Underwood's duplicate actor, Nicholas.

The airborne movie-within-the-movie is titled "Rendezvous," but it's easy to lose track of this aspect and jumble the parallel subplots.

In the meantime, Mr. Soderbergh points other characters toward competing rendezvous. Catherine Keener, as a shrew named Lee a personnel director estranged from far-fetched spouse David Hyde-Pierce, as Carl, also a writer on the Los Angeles staff ends up in the hotel suite of a consort camouflaged by digital smudging and blotting.

Indeed, one of the film's conceits is to dare you to look at Mr. Soderbergh's most abstract and gnomic digital compositions, which demand a huge tolerance for glare and smears of color amid the glare. Lee's office is the terminal nightmare setting for such eyesores.

Lee is purported to have a sister named Linda (Mary McCormack), who works as a hotel masseuse and crosses paths with David Duchovny as a sicko producer named Gus. His 40th birthday party is supposed to be the pivotal event of the scenario.

Coincidentally, Lee is also a birthday girl and remains haunted by the gift she received last year from Linda: a sex toy. It may have ruined her life, although her temperament appears far more self-defeating. The sex toy never makes an appearance, incidentally.

Linda has a rendezvous on tap with a potential admirer met over the Internet. Both are using assumed names until further notice. Somewhat outside this orbit is an egomaniacal actor known only as Hitler (Nicky Katt) because he's obsessed with impersonating the character in a theater piece called "The Sound and the Fuehrer."

His scenes function as comic relief in this context, and Mr. Katt brings some genuine lunatic force to the actor's obsession. Nevertheless, the whole idea is in the nature of a rendezvous with Mel Brooks that Mr. Soderbergh is destined to lose, ignominiously.

The most prominent extra is Brad Pitt, playing the supposed star of the movie that has recruited Nicholas to play his partner on the police force. David Fincher, the director of "Seven" and "Fight Club," is glimpsed briefly as the director, perhaps venturing a fleeting impersonation of Steven Soderbergh. That's their little secret.

A brief but toxic amount of footage isolates Harvey Weinstein, the Miramax boss who happens to be backing "Full Frontal" itself. A coarse parody of mogulhood, he guzzles soft drinks during the talent portion of his cameo and then volunteers a lewd joke as part of a parlor game whose chances of catching on will probably end as soon as Mr. Weinstein's hot one is overheard.What a darling bunch of lowlifes these movie people make themselves appear when horsing around for the digital record. There's not much point in thinking the worst of them.

A pointless inside doodle such as "Full Frontal" has all the confessional advantage. It demonstrates that thinking the worst of themselves comes easily for overprivileged show people. The blunder is sharing this character defect with outsiders who would prefer to be invited only to the reputable stuff they might have going.

(No stars)

TITLE: "Full Frontal"

RATING: R (Occasional profanity and sexual candor; a morbid episode involving a suicide)

CREDITS: Directed by Steven Soderbergh

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes


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