[Screen It]

(1999) (Sean Patrick Flanery, Jerry O'Connell) (R)

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Drama: Four twenty-something young women and their male counterparts examine love and sex as their night of partying and pairing off leads to unexpected consequences.
As single lawyers Rick Hamilton (SEAN PATRICK FLANERY) and Jane Bannister (AMANDA PEET) wake up in bed together, heavy with hangovers and wondering what they did the night before, Sara Olswang (TARA REID) suddenly shows up at their door.

Bleeding and dressed in a nightgown, Sarah claims that Rick's buddy, Michael Penorisi (JERRY O'CONNELL), a former pro football player, raped her. The story then shifts backwards a day as we see Rick and his three buddies, Michael, Shawn Denigan (BRAD ROWE) and Trent (RON LIVINGSTON) preparing for a night out on the town, while Jane and her girlfriends, Sarah, Whitney Bryant (EMILY PROCTER) and Emma Cooper (SYBIL TEMCHEN) do the same.

Planning to meet each other at a swinging nightclub, the members of each foursome discuss their views on relationships, love and sex. As the night wears on, members from each group eventually pair off for various romantic/sexual interludes, including Michael and Sara whose later encounter turns into a "he said, she said" debate over whether a rape actually occurred.

The following morning, as everyone tries to sort out the events surrounding the alleged rape, the members of each quartet react to that as well as their drunken dalliances from the night before.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Something of a combination of HBO's "Sex and the City," "St. Elmo's Fire," the Jodie Foster rape drama, "The Accused," and a bit of Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" thrown in for good measure, Michael Cristofer's follow-up to his Emmy-nominated HBO film, "Gia," is a mishmash of storytelling styles and genres.

At once an exploration of sorts of dating in the late 90s, at another a cautionary tale of casual sex and wrapping up with a "he said, she said" rape drama, the film feels like an eclectic assembly of stories and messages most likely best suited for their own individual films.

For instance, after an opening that introduces an allegation of rape, the film quickly switches gears as it backtracks to the day before the incident. There, eight twenty-something singles, evenly split among the sexes, plan for a night of partying and possible/hopeful pairing off for some casual sex. While the initial "tease" and subsequent rewind feature clearly aren't novel plot devices, they still work to some degree in getting the audience to wonder who these characters are and what might lead up to the possible rape.

Although that's a decent setup, the film then turns into an elongated and cross-gender version of Sarah Jessica Parker and her gal pals on HBO's "Sex and the City." As such, the women and men here sit around and chat about all things sexual -- likes, dislikes, techniques, etc... -- in moments that aren't particularly amusing, shocking, entertaining, or, for that matter, enlightening or educational.

In addition, Cristofer (who also previously penned the screenplay adaptations for "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "The Witches of Eastwick") shows some of his theatrical background by having the characters break "the fourth wall" and directly address the viewer. Another device that isn't particularly original (even the recently released "The Story of Us" does the same), it's also something of a cheat as it allows the filmmakers to deliver plot exposition and particular character motivation with minimal effort.

Thus, beyond the superficial mating dance each character performs, most of what we're supposed to know about them comes from those short snippets of chatting with us and/or voice over narration. As a result, they never get the chance to expand much beyond their initial two-dimensionality and we consequently never care about any of them. Perhaps that's Cristofer and screenwriter David McKenna's ("American History X") point, but without any vested interest in any of the characters, the film suffers.

To make matters worse, eight characters are a few too many to juggle competently and the filmmakers simply can't come up with enough scenarios to differentiate them as much as is needed. That problem is also exacerbated by the fact that three of the actresses are somewhat similar looking, and without a better knowledge of who they are (that doesn't take place until later in the film), they sort of blend together.

Hampered by all of that, the performers who inhabit the shallowly developed characters can't do much with them. While Sean Patrick Flanery ("Simply Irresistible," "Powder"), Jerry O'Connell ("Jerry Maguire," "Stand By Me"), Amanda Peet (TV's "Jack and Jill") and Tara Reid ("American Pie," "The Big Lebowski") are presumably the film's focal points, they only come off as moderately interesting.

While the character played by Emily Procter ("Guinevere") gets an interesting twist late in the story as she "comes out" as a dominatrix, the rest of the performances are rather bland. That is, except for Ron Livingston ("Office Space") as the cad with the funky clothes. Bringing far more life into his character than most of the others combined, Livingston gets the film's best lines and moments, including a drunkenly surreal, close encounter with a car accident.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film and its characters aren't infused with as much deranged spirit. When the story suddenly veers into the dueling rape story (that thankfully avoids the standard courtroom drama scene and accompanying theatrics), what little fun that had been present quickly evaporates as the proceedings turn into a decidedly more somber affair.

While the film manages to be mildly interesting throughout due to the plot jumping around through time and our inherent curiosity about how things will turn out, in the end it isn't as insightful and clearly isn't as powerful an indictment or examination of dating, 90s style, as its posturing might otherwise indicate. If you enjoy the sexual frankness of "Sex and the City," you might find the similar moments here somewhat entertaining, but don't expect much beyond that. As such, "Body Shots" rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 18, 1999 / Posted October 23, 1999

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