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Review: Don't show up for '20 Dates'

Web posted on:
Thursday, March 11, 1999 5:27:47 PM EST

By Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Just how big a jerk does an "artist" have to be before what he's doing no longer qualifies as entertainment? The way things are going, that may turn out to be the pivotal question of the 1990s (along with the ever-popular, "Did we really have to know that?").

Myles Berkowitz, the writer-director-star of the new pseudo-documentary "20 Dates," isn't obnoxious the way Howard Stern and the shock jocks are. That stuff is more or less designed solely to offend.

What's so disagreeable about Berkowitz is that he seems to think that his natural tendency towards egotistical self-promotion is an adorable quirk, something that you should be completely taken with even as it makes your skin crawl. I don't think so, Myles.

He may be looking for a movie career, but what Berkowitz actually needs is several hearty smacks in the mouth.

Trying to find true love?

The basic gist of "20 Dates" is that Berkowitz has secured $60,000 from a sleazy backer, and he's going to make a documentary during which he'll go on 20 different dates, trying to find true love. Or, in lieu of that, he'll settle for making sarcastic comments about what he considers to be overriding (and unfair) female attitudes towards sex and courtship.

That's bad enough, but the kicker is that he plans on secretly filming the dates, sort of a "Candid Camera" where his unsuspecting subjects will hopefully pour their hearts out to him, right there on film.

There are moments in this movie that are so demeaning to the women that Berkowitz is supposedly dating, I almost walked out. I say "supposedly" because it's pretty obvious that a lot of what you're watching has been staged for the camera, even though Berkowitz insists that it's all on the up-and-up. Much of it looks like the real thing, though, so it didn't surprise me when we learn that he got nailed with a couple of lawsuits while he was filming.

One of the earliest dates, in particular, is truly distasteful. A beautiful young woman who really seems to be getting a kick out of Berkowitz's motor-mouth routine is suddenly told to look behind that plant over there (they're in a nice restaurant).

She sees the camera, and Berkowitz explains to her that she's part of a documentary that he's putting together about the L.A. dating scene. The woman's face drops as she realizes what's going on, and she seems near tears. It's the meanest thing I've seen in ages. If, in fact, this woman is another one of the actresses that you see popping up throughout the film, then Berkowitz still isn't off the hook. It's a shameful way to make a name for yourself, and a wholly pathetic, 6th-grade version of a sense of humor.

Eventually, Berkowitz meets and "falls in love with" a gorgeous UCLA student. Their initial encounter seems to be the real thing, but then there are several sequences that ring completely false, especially one where he brings another of his "dates" home with him and the "girlfriend" is there. (Supposedly, Berkowitz is going to get beaten up by the backer if he doesn't complete the film with exactly 20 dates in it, so his new love has allowed him to finish the project. Too bad.)

I don't understand what's really being accomplished with this half-true format, except that a bunch of people across the country get to sit there and watch Berkowitz prove what creep he is...or what a creep he may be, if it's all a gag. Again, though, he's a creep even if it's a put-on. If any women out there want to make a movie where Myles Berkowitz gets kicked down 20 flights of stairs, I'll be happy to hold the camera. I'll even hang around for re-takes.

There's bad language in "20 Dates," and some talk about sex. You might laugh at a couple of gags, but do chivalry a favor and steer clear of this thing. Rated R. 88 minutes.

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