by Dane Youssef
An EXPERIMENTAL PLAY. AN EXPERIMENTAL MOVIE. HEY, LET'S FACE IT... THEY DON'T ALWAYS PAN OUT.
"Rocky" and "Good Will Hunting" are the best of examples of what happens when out-of-work actors write.
In these situations, they can write themselves work. And with some talent, some and a little luck, these unemployable actors are never unemployed again.
Nervous nebbish actor Patrick Breen wrote this experimental Off-Off broadway play "Just A Kiss" about how one single event can completely can change not just the lives of the kissers and their significant others, but people outside their little circles.
A whole chain reaction. One kiss. Between two people who shouldn't be kissing. And then hell breaks loose. Not just the kissers and their significant others. But people outside the circle as well.
A promising idea even though we have seen it before. One person and one desicion. That's all it takes.
Oddball character actor Fisher Stevens is a friend and collaborator of Breen's and makes his directorial debut with this experimental film and the often-dubbed "character actor" does some experimental character direction here with this one.
Perhaps the film is trying to be too many things at once.
Maybe the real problem with "Just A Kiss" is it takes too many targets. Social commentary on love, life and relationships (especially in NYC). A black comedy. An experiment. A drama. A dramedy, perhaps? And if that's not enough, the movie tries too hard to be "hip" and "stylish" and "ground-breaking" with it's technique.
"JAK," which could probably be best described as an "Anti-romantic comedy." What bothers me the most is that it's not a succesful one. But boy, it sure could have been.
Dag (named after a former U.N. secreatry, who's a real dog) is a commercial director who's dating Halley (a woman who saved his life) and living with her.
He's unfaithful quite frequently and seems to be prone to having flings with some of Manhattan's more mentally ill chicks. It's a shame Dag can't be faithful to Halley because she's the sanest woman he can come across.
Maybe it could have had it been... less ambitious? That's not the right attitude. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Should we HATE everybody for trying?
His friend Peter, a commercial actor (who also wrote this film) is having relationship trouble with his mentally unbalanced ballerina girlfriend who has a steady habit of cheating on him with everybody, she also has a married man named Andre (Taye Diggs) who comes over to sleep with her regularly and HE winds up having sex with Halley and bcomes her boyfriend. Peter has a quick one with Colleen, Andre's wife.
And... people start dropping and dying pretty quickly. Couples couple up with other people and the body count rises as people kill themselves or each other.
But now the problems with the movie: A lot has been made about the film's use of rotoscoping. An animation technique that was a favorite (and perhaps partially invented) of X-rated adult animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi. His "adult" cartoons often blended animation with live-action. This movie does the same.
Except with a live-action cast who only "occassionally" animate and do things that are glossed with cartoon frosting.
Why does this movie employ rotomation? Perhaps because the characters are cartoon characters themselves. They're so overplayed in a big, broad slapstick sort of way. Imagine Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny sitting around doing Neil LaBute or Todd Solondz material. It can be cute. For a few seconds. Maybe it's a metephor. Maybe it's supposed to mean this movie is more of a metephor than commentary. Or maybe it's just supposed to be stylish and hip.
But it just doesn't work here, pure and simple.
That is not to say ALL the rotoscoping in the movie is a bad idea. The intro in the title sequence is pretty great. But it just makes the rest of the badness so much more clear.
We hear Dag telling a story where he and Peter are in the back of a cab and speeding through NYC. We see rotomation at work outside illuminating the already-lit Manhattan after-hours club scene. Inside, everything is hopping... and litterally glowing. So are a lot of the people. A woman with a slavic accent screams at a man in a Porsche and makes death threats.
Dag moves towards her as the Porsche drives away. Onlookers think it's a bad idea. Who cares? She's vunerable.
They have passionante animal sex (complete with rotomation highlighting visuals). The morning after they wake up. She turns out to not have an accent. She's American. She sobs, I'm engaged! Dag just decides they should just forget last night, get her things and show her out the door.
Oh, she's crazy. Right before she takes that step out, she smiles and says (in a NEW accent), "She does this kind of shit all the time." And we see her eye turn a frightening color. She's got multiple-crazy. This is a nice touch. Good little montage there, Steve.
But unfortunatly, this isn't a movie where they're satisfied with the little touches.
I love how diabolical the soundtrack is. This music is truly inspired. And kind of fitting for this movie, I guess. The thing how the movie is that it's so promising, it plays out like a notebook of theories and ideas by a first-year philsophy major.
The cast is great and than more able to play these characters. But the movie is directed like it's farce and slapstick when it's supposed to be serious. It moves at the pace and is styled like an MTV music video--which is all wrong for this material.
One bright spark is Marisa Tomei. Ever since "My Cousin Vinny," she's been typecast into playing that one role. The sexy, sassy and quick-tempered girlfriend who's kind of the whole point-of-sanity for her hair-trigger, on-the-edge boyfriend.
She got the Oscar for the role. Ever since, she has never been allowed to play another role. But in this movie, she has been granted the opportunity.
She plays a mentally unstable and potentially homicidal waitress. She makes small talk with Dag, plays his confidant. She reads fortunes in rings left by cold beer bottles. She reads his. He needs a one-night stand to help him to forget. She throws herself at him. "Leave your number." He does. This only makes things worse in a way I can't quite reveal here.
There's one potentially funny "Seinfeld-ian" moment as Peter makes a cellular call on a plane right before landing. The radio transmission interfears with the control tower. The plane breaks in half and passengers die. Now that really made me laugh.
The tourist class (business and coach) all die horribly whereas the first class skitter across the runway and land safely close to the gates. No here is an inspired bit. With a director able to juggle multiple tones a little better, this could've been a success.
But the actual final product plays out like an exercise or a list or experimentation of different cinematic styles. Which, actually, I guess, it is. Steven has always been a character actor, and now he's a character director. Let's hop his next character is at least somewhat better.
Lets also hope their next collaboration is better. Hell, it'll be easy to top this one. "Just A Kiss"... just doesn't work.
Better luck next time.
--Wanting A Whole Lot More Than Just A Kiss, Dane Youssef