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(2002) (Jeffrey Tambor, Jill Clayburgh) (R)

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Drama: Two middle-aged people unintentionally end up in a relationship after previously vowing never to do that again.
Christopher Roland (JEFFRY TAMBOR) and Grace Minor (JILL CLAYBURGH) are two, 50-something and separately divorced people living in New York who do not intend to ever get involved in a romantic relationship again. Christopher, a professional exterminator and part-time jazz musician, has started to question his sexual orientation, a point he discusses with his best friend and fellow musician Earl (BILL DUKE) and hopes to test with she-male Alex (MICHAEL McKEAN).

Grace, on the other hand, is a social worker whose daughter has just left for college and whose two friends, Elaine (CAROLINE AARON) and Natasha (SANDY DUNCAN), believe she needs to have sex since it's been years since she last did. After a blind date they arrange goes wrong, she and Christopher accidentally meet and hit it off at a gay bar where both happen to be.

The two find themselves to be kindred spirits and then make the mistake of having sex. Once they do, their relationship begins. From that point on, they must decide how to deal with that as well as the fact that they vowed never to do that again.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As has always been and still is the case in the real world, there exists a double standard in the cinema regarding men and women. Simply put, men of any age can appear in just about any movie and get just about any woman, even if they're old enough to be their father and in some cases, grandfather.

For women, however, the young, beautiful and shapely - and particularly those who possess all three attributes - rule the screen. That is, until one or more of those features begins to elude them and/or someone else comes along with better ones. Sure, sometimes the talented manage to make it regardless of their physical appearance, but that's usually an exception to the rule.

The ironic thing is that after the young ones say "never again" to exploitative roles after they eventually manage to make a name for themselves, and they then get a bit long in the tooth - which in Hollywood's eyes is essentially any age beyond the mid 30s - that's the phrase they're likely hear in regards to getting lead roles in major releases that don't have them eventually cast as mothers, grandmothers or spinster losers.

The film "Never Again" isn't about that Hollywood caste system, although the matter is briefly discussed from time to time. Instead, it explores middle-aged people not wanting to get burned by falling in love and then suffering the fallout of failed relationships again. Yet, the intriguing parallel to this review's original thought is what sort of role 58-year-old actress Jill Clayburgh has taken in the film.

In it, she plays a 54-year-old divorcee who acts as if she's part of the gang from HBO's "Sex and the City" if Carrie and her friends were several decades older but still suffering from the romantic and sexual blues. She cusses up a storm, graphically talks about sex and even sports a strap-on dildo in an "American Pie" inspired bit of racy comedy.

Granted, regular women of the same age in the real world might do the same - or at least parts of that - but the reason for such attention to the matter is that Clayburgh's role and performance are what will be remembered the most from this "dramedy," but not necessarily for the right reasons.

As written and directed by Eric Schaeffer ("Fall," "If Lucy Fell"), the film is somewhat entertaining for a while in its initial exploration of the subject matter at hand that also includes sexual orientation confusion. Schaeffer, Clayburgh ("Starting Over," "An Unmarried Woman") and Jeffrey Tambor ("Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Pollock") manage to get some decent mileage - both comedic and dramatic - out of parts of the material. Some of the individual moments are amusing, parts of the dialogue are good, and the performances are generally solid.

Beyond the "advanced" age issue and after the "is he gay or not" element is curiously dropped regarding the character played by Tambor, however, there's really nothing here that hasn't been explored before. In addition, much of the film's more "scandalous" material - including Christopher going to see a "she-male" played by Michael McKean ("My First Mister," "Best in Show") as well as the farcical strap-on scene -- often seems contrived in an incongruous push-the-envelope sort of way rather than something that's inherent or important to the script.

Worse yet, the film loses its edge once the central romance is established as the film then feels stuck spinning its wheels over the same material. As is the case with most romantic comedies and some related dramas, the picture also unfortunately includes the obligatory third act breakup.

Although that's supposed to add an "Oh no" complication-based twist to the proceedings and relationship at hand, it also feels forced and contrived no matter the "cold feet" hints dropped earlier in the film. The result is that the somewhat quirky and moderately engaging film quickly rolls over and goes into a death spiral from which it never recovers, including an embarrassingly goofy conclusion.

All of that said and notwithstanding the late in the game developments and the bits of contrived, unfunny and unsuccessful material with which they must work, Clayburgh and Tambor create credible characters that manage to be fairly interesting and engaging. Supporting performances from the likes of Caroline Aaron ("Pumpkin," "Joe Dirt"), Sandy Duncan (TV's "The Hogan Family" and "Valerie") and Bill Duke ("Exit Wounds," "Predator") are decent, if not particularly memorable or as fleshed out as one would like to see in a film like this.

This will probably be one of those instantly forgettable pictures that one will occasionally come across on cable TV in the early morning hours. Its only memorable part will be the scene where Clayburgh sports an anatomical part that no woman or actress of her stature should be caught dead - or alive - wearing, and I'm not sure that's how the actress wants to mark the second half of her career when parts will become fewer and father between. Clearly not the social examination or statement about sex and romance after 50 that it apparently strives to be - and not a particularly good movie in general - "Never Again" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed June 5, 2002 / Posted July 19, 2002

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