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Someone get this lady a script!

'Love and Sex' wastes a talented actress


In this story:

Much sex, little love

A tiresome duo

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(CNN) -- Poor Famke Janssen. She may well be the most gifted, relatively unknown actress in American movies. Why hasn't Hollywood's PR machine gotten around to turning her into a darker answer to Michelle Pfeiffer?

Janssen is high-cheekboned and elegant while miraculously retaining her everyday humanity. And her performances always contain one or two distinctly inventive moments. Too bad she's been forced to claw her way through one crummy movie after another, with the exception of 1998's "Rounders." That one was so good you could actually call it mediocre, and Janssen was only in it for five or six minutes.

"Love and Sex," a plodding romantic comedy that co-stars John Favreau, is a definite step in the wrong direction. It's tough to watch immediately likable actors endure such a mercilessly dull screenplay.

This genre can trip you up if you're not careful, and writer-director Valerie Breiman stumbles in especially laconic style. She has a tendency to spell everything out for you in voice over, then show it to you just to make sure you recognize the cliche.

And she often substitutes rib-nudging interludes for genuine character development. Necessary romantic situations -- meeting, first-time flirtation, a big break-up -- aren't given enough of a spin to make them interesting. Everything about the movie seems like a first draft.

Much sex, little love

Janssen plays Kate Welles, a magazine writer who whines a lot and enjoys sex in public places, but can't figure out why she has trouble meeting nice men. Let's just say that she lacks a certain self-awareness. Kate's sexual escapades are supposed to give her an unexpected wild-girl quality; they just make her seem reckless.

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Janssen sure looks terrific when she hikes up her dress and climbs on top of one of her ex-boyfriends (much of the story is relayed via flashbacks) in a men's-room stall. But Breiman's insistence on playing up this aspect of Kate's personality seems like an attempt to exploit Janssen's looks, rather than taking advantage of her untapped potential as an actress. With the exception of an effective scene in which Kate suffers a miscarriage, Janssen is all but wasted.

Favreau, who's nowhere near the talent that Janssen is, doesn't even get one good scene. He plays Adam, a wise-guy artist who paints Francis Bacon-ish works that feature stuff like a man pulling his a head out of his own rear-end. Adam and Kate meet at one of his openings, then go through the "I love you/I hate you" rotation.

Favreau, though altogether amiable, isn't what you would call a complex screen presence. He comes across as a piggish frat boy with a decent sense of humor. It's unlikely that Kate would warm up to him to the degree that she does, or as hastily as she does

A tiresome duo

The couple's hypothetically quick-witted interactions often verge on embarrassing -- a moment when Kate "hilariously" passes gas in bed springs to mind. These two don't deserve each other because they complete an open-ending amorous equation. They deserve each other because, for the most part, nobody else should be forced to endure them -- the audience included.

As stated earlier, one of the biggest drawbacks here is Breiman's use of voice over. Narration can be an awkward screenwriting maneuver when it doesn't shade the scene that it accompanies. If the writer uses it to pound conclusions into your head rather than letting you draw them on your own, all the voice over does is announce that the gist of what you're watching has been filmed a thousand times before ... in this case, by Woody Allen and Rob Reiner, among others, and with a lot more emotional dexterity.

"Love and Sex" may not be odious, but it's hardly a worthy successor to the films that it so monotonously emulates.

"Love and Sex" contains profanity, talk of sex, and a couple of risque situations. Look for ineffective cameos by Ann Magnuson, Cheri Oteri and David Schwimmer. Boy, somebody's got connections. Rated R. 82 minutes.




RELATED STORIES:
World hangs in balance in rollicking 'X-Men'
July 13, 2000
Review: 'Rounders' has nothing up its sleeve
September 14, 1998

RELATED SITES:
IMDB's page on Love & Sex (2000)


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