Only Marisa Tomei, playing a bowling alley waitress 
    and closet dominatrix, seems to be having much fun.
Only Marisa Tomei, playing a bowling alley waitress and closet dominatrix, seems to be having much fun.

Kiss Off

The catering company that provided sustenance to the cast and crew of Just a Kiss, the feature directorial debut of actor Fisher Stevens, is named Cecil B. Demeals. It's one small detail in a list of credits that appears after most casual moviegoers have walked out of the theater. So why mention it? Simply because the company name is wittier than anything else in this ostensible comedy. And if you're saying to yourself, "Come on, it ain't that funny," you're catching on.

To give Stevens some points, though, Just a Kiss is not just another disposable romantic comedy, but an ambitious, overreaching mess. You can tell there was a lot more thought put into this film than the likes of Serving Sara, but in the end that doesn't make it any more fun to watch. Part watered-down Neil LaBute, part Seinfeld episode (especially the one in which George's fiancée licks the poison glue and dies) and part Waking Life, Just a Kiss follows a group of youngish couples in New York as they cheat on each other with one another. Except some parts may not be real. How do we know? Possibly because of the use of rotoscoped animation, familiar not only from Waking Life but also from an a-ha video some years back, though the filmmakers try to claim it as a revolutionary new process called rotomation. It's certainly cool to see one live-action character slash her wrists to spill neon cartoon blood, but is there a point? None apparent.

The setup is sort of lifted from Your Friends and Neighbors. TV commercial director Dag (Ron Eldard) -- pronounced "dog" because men are, chortle chortle -- has had a secret fling with a depressed ballerina named Rebecca (Marley Shelton) who's dating his best friend, peanut butter commercial star Peter (Patrick Breen, who also wrote the screenplay and thus can take much of the blame). Dag's live-in girlfriend, Halley (Kyra Sedgwick), gets upset, moves out and ends up crashing at Rebecca's place, where she meets and romances Andre (Taye Diggs), a sensitive cello player who's also nailing Rebecca but is married to stewardess Colleen (Sarita Choudhury), who likes to seduce men on planes (or, in this case, utterly fake-looking soundstages that only loosely resemble airplane cabins), one of whom is Peter. Peter has an obsessed fan in bowling-alley waitress Paula (Marisa Tomei), but when she can't get him, she settles for the next best thing, which, naturally, is Dag.


Just a Kiss

Rated R

Complications ensue, of course. Stevens often opts for a nonlinear, Tarantinolike storytelling style, which, to his credit, is never confusing in the least. If only any of the characters was convincing. Forced to utter lines like "I don't very much like vestibules," not one of these normally fine actors is compelling enough to hold our attention, and when more than one drops dead as the result of some silly narrative punch line, no one's likely to give a damn. Ironically, one of the characters opines that "moviegoing should always be a life-or-death experience." Stevens and Breen seem to have forgotten the "life" part in that equation, as have most of their leaden-faced cast.

Of the leads, only Tomei, given the darkest role (as a closet dominatrix), seems to be having much fun; the others look like they're in acting class. Veteran Australian stage actress Zoe Caldwell effortlessly blows everyone away in a small cameo as Rebecca's mom, chastising her daughter with lines like "You were a much better dancer when you were a bulimic -- why don't you take that up again?"

If it weren't for the animation, and the reasonably high-caliber cast, no one would pay Just a Kiss much attention at all. So let's recap. Animation: cool-looking but pointless. Cast: better in virtually every other movie on their respective résumés. There. Now no more attention need be paid.


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