In the 1987 film, "The Witches of Eastwick," Jack Nicholson plays Daryl Van Horne, a.k.a. the Devil, who arrives in the sleepy New England village of Eastwick to satiate the needs and desires of three local women who've unknowingly conjured him up. He, of course, bedevils the characters played by Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Cher, and ends up giving them exactly what they want and more.
Based on John Updike's 1984 novel of the same name, the story is certainly adult and comically amoral in nature, and if not for Nicholson's terrific performance and director George Miller's handling of the material, the film could have turned off, rather than entertained audiences due to its subject matter and rampant and blatant womanizing.
While there are no supernatural forces at work in writer/director George Stembridge's similarly themed comedy, "About Adam," it also gets away with its amoral tendencies and material thanks to just the right comedic touch both behind and in front of the camera. The story of a man who charms his way into a family's lives and beds, the film obviously won't appeal to all viewers' tastes or moral inclinations, but for those who don't mind its naughty but nice nature, it delivers a charming 100 or so minutes of diversionary entertainment.
Of course, if not for the star making turn of actress Kate Hudson in 2000's "Almost Famous," this film might not ever had made it onto the theatrical release circuit. Shot before Cameron Crowe's film and caught in the not so unusual distribution limbo that many independent flicks often find themselves, the film features Hudson ("Dr. T & The Women," "Gossip") in a charming, but lightweight role that, if viewed chronologically with her "latest" work, quite clearly shows her growth as an actress that led up to her Oscar nominated performance in "Famous."
It's the performance from Stuart Townsend ("Wonderland," "Shooting Fish") as the title character, however, that serves as the film's pivotal make it or break it point. Unlike Nicholson in "Witches," Townsend doesn't have the luxury of hammily plying off the supernatural basis of his character. Nevertheless, the actor plays the character with just the right amount of charming characteristics so as to prevent the film from appearing as or turning into a distasteful or smutty exercise, something that quite easily could have happened.
While Stembridge ("Guiltrip") and his cast don't go so far as to be overly blatant in their "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" approach of telling the story, it's obvious that their collective efforts are meant to be viewed and taken in a lighthearted, if mischievous fantasy style fashion.
Some of that stems from the picture's "Rashomon" type plot structure where the film proceeds up to a point and then suddenly rewinds to tell the same story from another character's point of view. Although clearly no longer a novel approach at storytelling (particularly since ever more films using that same sort of plot structure have been released while this one was sitting on the shelf), the nonlinear storyline obviously offers some potential here.
That's particularly true once we realize that the title character is interested in bedding more than just Hudson's character. While that would seem to have the makings of something resembling a sex farce, Stembridge mostly keeps the proceedings moving along a light comedy path, relying instead on the alternating points of view and occasionally crisscrossing storylines to engage and entertain the viewer.
The first such jump back in time and related realization that Adam is cheating on his girlfriend with various members of her family will certainly catch some viewers off guard and will probably interest them into trying to figure out where the story is then headed. The ensuing temporal jumps, however, lose some of their effectiveness with each subsequent occurrence. That's mainly because Stembridge's script isn't clever or creative enough in making such rewind moments as shocking or funny as they could have been in how they develop, unfold and intersect with one another.
Had the film's structure and story been a bit more complex and built to allow for ever increasing comedy material, the effect may have been different. As it stands, however, the Rashomon approach feels a bit more like a clever ploy rather than something that actually makes the film stronger or more entertaining. It also doesn't help that certain scenes within each separate storyline sequence often come and go rather quickly, thus giving them and the entire film something of an uneven feel.
Beyond Townsend and Hudson in the lead roles, the rest of the performances are decent if occasionally a bit over exaggerated at times in their attempts to elicit laughter. That's particularly true for the typical bookworm like character played by Frances O'Connor ("Bedazzled," "Mansfield Park").
While a talented actress, O'Connor is asked to play the part a bit too broadly and over the top (once the story has her loosen up), with her character overreacting more than she should, even for a comedy. That's particularly true when she'd obviously be attempting to act a bit more subdued in accordance with her wanting to keep her desires a secret from her sister.
Charlotte Bradley ("Moll Flanders," "Smilla's Sense of Snow") and Alan Maher (who makes his feature film debut) round out the immediate family members affected by Adam's amorous ways. While they're decent in their respective roles and storylines, and there are some amusing moments involving them, they're otherwise pretty much forgettable.
In essence, and despite its subject matter, the same holds true for the overall picture, although it's often entertaining and charming enough as it unfolds that one really won't mind that or the fact that it's just lightweight and occasionally witty fluff. While it obviously won't appeal to all viewers, the film benefits enough from some charming performances, as well as a unique enough storyline that will keep viewers wondering where it's headed, to earn a passing grade. Accordingly, "About Adam" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.