Film Reviews: Wednesday, October 17, 2002
Just a Kiss
Starring Ron Eldard, Kyra Sedgwick, Patrick Breen, and Marisa Tomei. Directed by Fisher Stevens. Written by Patrick Breen. Rated R.
Give a Dag a Bone

Nothing happens for any reason at all in the deadly comedy Just a Kiss.


The first sign of trouble in Just a Kiss is the introduction of a character named Dag (Ron Eldard), who has to explain to everyone he meets that he’s named after former U.N. Secretary General Hammarskjöld, and that his name is not “Dog.” If you think using that as a running joke is annoying, it’s mild compared with what else this wearisome romantic comedy has in store.

Dag is a tv commercial director who ruins his relationship with his girlfriend Halley (Kyra Sedgwick) by sleeping with a dancer named Rebecca (Marley Shelton), who’s already involved with his best friend Peter (Patrick Breen, who doubles as the movie’s screenwriter). A chain reaction ensues, as Halley rebounds with Rebecca’s former boyfriend Andre (Taye Diggs), while Peter gets on an airplane and gets it on in the bathroom with a flight attendant (Sarita Choudhury) who happens to be Andre’s wife. Meanwhile, Dag seeks solace in the arms of a psychotic bowling alley attendant/dominatrix (Marisa Tomei) who wreaks havoc on everyone’s life.

You know, writing that last sentence was a lot of fun. The sexual roundelay described above may sound like fun, too, but it really isn’t. As a writer, Breen actually fires off a few decent one-liners, but he’s also prone to clunkers like, “Emotions are ephemeral, like flowers or beauty. When they appear, it’s your duty to appreciate them.” The characters are ciphers, and it’s impossible to tell why (aside from plot mechanics) they hook up with each other. It’s also impossible to care when they start getting killed off, because by the time that happens, you’ve caught on that this is the type of movie where dead people are brought back to life just to get a cheap laugh. The energy that the film exhibits early on dissipates by the end, as the filmmakers manipulate their characters like a couple of little kids fooling around with a chess set and making up their own rules as they go.

Longtime character actor Fisher Stevens, best known for tv’s Early Edition, steps behind the camera for his directorial debut. You can appreciate why he resorts to gimmickry like running the film backwards and creating fantasy sequences, but that doesn’t make the gimmicks any less irritating. (Also, there are so many fantasy sequences that it’s hard to tell what is actually taking place. In fact, the film undoes most of its own story near the end, implying that the whole thing is an alternate reality. You actually won’t mind that, because it nullifies so many arbitrary story developments.) Stevens switches back and forth from filming in live action to rotoscoping animation, but there’s no detectable logic to his method, so it becomes a grating mannerism. Straining for comedy, the actors overemote and yowl their lines — Sedgwick is, predictably, the worst offender. Just a Kiss wants so badly to be wacky and unconventional that its failure makes it rather a pathetic sight.

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