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"WHIPPED"
(2000) (Amanda Peet, Brian Van Holt) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Three single men find both their friendship and their previously successful pick up techniques threatened when they simultaneously fall for and become involved with the same woman.
PLOT:
Brad (BRIAN VAN HOLT), Jonathan (JONATHAN ABRAHAMS) and Zeke (ZORIE BARBER) are three single men who've been best friends since college. Every Sunday they get together at a New York City diner where they compare notes regarding their various recent attempts and success at "scamming" (picking up) and bedding women.

With a wealth of experience and techniques between them, the men enjoy telling and hearing the others' tales, but hate it when Eric (JUDAH DOMKE), their one married friend, joins them. That's because it's obvious he's vicariously living the single life through their exploits and because they don't want to hear stories of marital sex.

Things become interesting when the three men end up separately but simultaneously meeting and falling for Mia (AMANDA PEET), an attractive woman who begins dating all of them. When the three realize that the others aren't willing to give her up, their friendship soon becomes threatened as they individually try to get her to pick them over the others.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Since humans seemingly have a preoccupation with the mating habits of the various wild animals with which we share our world -- at least based on a quick view of all the nature shows on TV - it would be interesting to see the same documentary approach applied to us.

One can imagine an extraterrestrial Marlon Perkins narrating about our mating game and what his advanced culture would consider the primitive and ritualistic, and often bizarre but interesting techniques used by the males and females of the species in attracting each other.

Safely ensconced in his space ship while cohort Alien Jim wades through the asphalt jungle of Earth, the large-headed Perkins would also comment on humans having a certain degree of "intelligence," but that they still haven't managed to separate intellect from mating urges, thus causing an intriguing internal conflict. He'd then go on about the species continuing to use learned social and behavioral techniques that they share with one another in small and conversational, same-sex gatherings.

As silly as that sounds, if you really think about it, much of that's true, and various films and TV shows such as HBO's "Sex and the City" have used such material as comedic and observational fodder. Now, along comes "Whipped," the writing and directorial debut of Peter M. Cohen that puts a decidedly male spin on such matters.

A moderately amusing and occasionally funny look at the human mating game that's also quite graphic, explicit and profane, the film comes off as an eclectic mixture of "Sex and the City," "Swingers," "In the Company of Men" and includes some gross out bits from your choice of most any film from the Farrelly brothers (who were responsible for "Me, Myself & Irene" and "There's Something About Mary").

Why such scatological material is present in a film like this is a bit perplexing (a character has an up close and personal encounter with a toilet that hasn't been flushed), but it did manage to elicit some of the film's biggest laughs at our preview screening.

Most of the rest come from the film's various bits of cutting-edge slang and dialogue related to hitting on and/or picking up women, a.k.a. "scamming" (only those in the appropriate, young singles generation can profess whether it's authentic or just fabricated for this film), as well as the predatory men's eventual comeuppance when they find a woman equally adept at manipulating the opposite sex.

Since the men are so straightforward, unflinching and uncompromising in their attitudes and behavior toward "bagging" women, it would have been more fun had their just desserts been served with a bit more of a severe and darkly humorous flair. Due to their collective confrontational and competitive demeanor, I expected the film to turn into a cutthroat free for all once the men realized they were all after the same woman.

While that fact does put a strain on their relationship, they don't become as ruthless and even more despicable as one might expect in their quest to become the "dominant male." As a result, the film suffers a bit from that omission as Cohen can milk the "three guys dating one woman" scenario only so much. In addition, the "big" revelation near the film's conclusion regarding the that woman's true motives can be seen not long after the quadrangular relationship coincidentally develops in, of all places, New York City.

The story may have worked better and consequently been more humorous had those motives been up front and on display from the get-go, thus setting up a dueling, manipulation-based war of the sexes. That would have allowed the viewer to be in the superior position mode, all the better to enjoy such a battle. Unfortunately, that doesn't occur.

Simply based on their described attitudes and behavior, another problem would seem to be a lack of likable or sympathetic characters. The men are jerks, there's no question about that, but it's not really Cohen's intention to make us like, let alone love them. Instead, we're rooting for their comeuppance. Yet, the way in which the characters are written and then embodied by the trio of performers makes them a bit more agreeable, at least from a comedic standpoint.

As those three central characters, Brian Van Holt (with various TV shows and independent films to his credit), Zorie Barber (making his debut) and Jonathan Abrahams (the independent film "Desperation Highway") are okay in depicting various versions of the male "hunter," but none are great or particularly memorable.

Although she gets top billing - mainly due to her performance in "The Whole Nine Yards" -- Amanda Peet ("Isn't She Great," TV's "Jack and Jill") is more of a supportive character and isn't really allowed to sink her teeth firmly into the role until the very end of the movie, thus creating a mostly boring persona for much of the film. In the only other major supporting role, Judah Domke ("Spanking the Monkey) is occasionally amusing as the already "whipped" husband.

Despite the contemporary mating game slang that's scattered throughout the production, the film isn't as sharp or funny as it could have been. Then again, it will probably play well to the less discerning members of its target audience - mainly late teen and twenty-something males - who may just see themselves in one or more of the central characters. For the rest of us, the film has a few funny moments, but like those men, it ends up coming off rather shallow and predictable. As such, "Whipped" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed August 30, 2000 / Posted September 1, 2000


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