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(2012) (Lauren Miller, Ari Graynor) (R)

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Comedy: Out of desperation, two women who initially don't like each other become roommates and then start their own phone sex business.
Lauren Powell (LAUREN MILLER) has had better weeks in her life. Not only has her boyfriend, Charlie (JAMES WOLK), dumped her since he's moving to Italy and because he finds their relationship boring, but her place of work has also shut its doors for good. Rather than ask her wealthy parents (MIMI ROGERS and DON McMANUS) for help, she turns to her friend Jesse (JUSTIN LONG) who suggests that she room with Katie Steel (ARI GRAYNOR). The only problem is that a decade earlier in college, Katie accidentally spilled a cup of her urine in Lauren's face.

Nevertheless, Jesse patches things up and the two become initially wary roommates, especially when Lauren learns that one of Katie's jobs is working a phone sex line, serving customers such as Sean (MARK WEBBER). When Lauren's pending job ends up filled by someone else, she decides to help Katie start her own phone sex business as her manager, eventually bringing in Krissy (SUGAR LYN BEARD) to help out on the phones. From that point on, the two women end up becoming friends but must deal with some bumps down the road.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I pride myself in knowing just enough about most any subject matter so that I can participate in a discussion to some rudimentary degree without coming off as ignorant or at least have the knowledge about when to keep my mouth shut to avoid looking like a fool. That said, I know next to nothing about the phone sex business.

Sure, I guess I understand the basics where a person (presumably usually a guy) calls a toll-based number and has a dialogue, so to speak, with some sultry-sounding operator who audibly helps the caller reach, ahem, their goal. But I can say that I don't know anyone who's ever placed such a call and surely no one who's ever worked in that industry. I also doubt those answering the phones look anything like those promised in the ads, and honestly don't even know if such a thing exists anymore, what with the Internet providing a more personal interaction for that same purpose.

Of course, I could be dead wrong on the latter as maybe it's still a thriving business. That would certainly seem to be the case argued in "For a Good Time, Call," where first-time feature film director Jamie Travis and screenwriters Lauren Miller and Katie Anne Naylon use that industry and those working in it as the jumping off point for their comedy.

As fellow critic Roger Ebert once stated (or perhaps borrowed from someone else), it's not the subject matter that's important, but rather the way in which the filmmakers tell their tale about it that is. After all, "Boogie Nights" was about those working in the porn industry, but rather than glorifying that profession and industry, that well-made film served as a decidedly cautionary tale about the biz and the pitfalls of working within it.

Considering it's a comedy, I was pretty sure this film wasn't exactly going to follow that same path. Yet, I was hoping for something more than what essentially comes off like a less than 90 minute pilot for a TV sitcom. To be accurate, it isn't that (at least not yet, although the subject matter would likely relegate this to some non-network channel if it ever did), but it has all of the trappings.

In fact, the one that immediately and first comes to mind is "The Odd Couple." Instead of Felix and Oscar, however, we have Lauren and Katie who end up being forced to live together due to a romantic breakup and financial woes respectively. Before one can say Neil Simon, those old enough to remember will likely paraphrase the opening titles voice-over of his hit show with "Can two women share an apartment without driving each other crazy?"

The gist is that Katie (Ari Graynor) holds down various jobs, with her at-home work consisting of being a phone sex operator. All of which is initially shocking to Lauren (Lauren Miller -- yes, the one who also penned the script) who initially views it as repulsive, especially since her only other encounter with her new roomie was a decade earlier when her fellow college coed urinated in a cup in her car and then proceeded to spill that all over her. But having lost her job and with no replacement in immediate sight, the thought of going into business with her former adversary does seem to have its financial advantages.

With the film having debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to some acclaim, I was expecting it to deliver something interesting, funny and/or imaginative. Alas, that's not to be, unless you find mediocre sitcom style plotting, dialogue and performances to fit those descriptions. Heck, it's not even as good as TV's current batch of the best of that bunch, but to each his own I guess.

Boiled down to its basics (which actually pretty much sum up the entire experience) we're offered a plot where the two young women don't get along but -- shock of all shocks -- actually find common ground and then form a budding friendship from working together. The two performers are okay in their roles, but the chemistry -- be that antagonistic at first and then more amicable -- isn't anything worth noting, and the writing doesn't do them many favors in giving them material with which they could really run and have fun.

There are also two fairly unbelievable plot developments in the third act that are supposed to shake things up a bit. One is supposed to shock, based on previously viewed behavior, but feels more like a cheap gimmick than a reality. The other is standard operating procedure for a comedy (and especially a romantic comedy) where two people have a falling out over one's behavior, but that feels tacked on and completely unnecessary here.

Subplots featuring Mark Webber (as a client who wants to take the "relationship" off the phone) and Mimi Rogers and Don McManus as Lauren's parents who keep dropping by the apartment at the wrong time (and thus nearly learn about their daughter's newfound vocation) don't amount to much either. Some cameos by the likes of Seth Rogen (married to Miller) and director Kevin Smith as callers are intended for laughs, but will only elicit those from adolescents or the adolescent-minded.

While I've always assumed that those who work in the phone sex business aren't the alluring beauties promised in the ads, I figured a comedy about that line of work could actually be funny. "For A Good Time, Call" proves that's not always the case, as I don't recall laughing even once. Then again, I don't do that for most mediocre sitcoms either. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 20, 2012 / Posted August 31, 2012

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