Monday, August 14, 2006

TRUST issues

Bart Freundlich has never made a good movie. The Myth of Fingerprints and World Traveler are morose and wearying, with only the luminous presence of his wife, Julianne Moore, to recommend them. [A third credit, the Spy Kids knockoff Catch the Kid, can be passed over with the same silence that greeted it.] An unbroken record of underachievement continues with Trust the Man (Fox Searchlight; opens Aug. 18), an uncertain stab at romantic comedy that hits neither the heart nor the funnybone.

The title sequence, which gambols about Manhattan neighborhoods, is fun, and I like that Freundlich (with the able assistance of his cinematographer, Tim Orr) has set as much of the film as possible outdoors. The attractive backdrop, however, frames a storyline that hinges on the behavioral changes of two unattractive men, Mad Ave. dropout and stay-at-home dad Tom (David Duchovny) and his brother-in-law, aging, self-involved slacker Tobey (Billy Crudup). Tom, chafing at the harried sexlessness of marriage to actress Rebecca (Moore), redefines the notion of the "play date" by fooling around with Pamela (Dagmara Dominczyk),a mother and mantrap; meanwhile, Tobey turns up the heat on an old flame, Faith (Eva Mendes) as he cools to the domestic demands of his long-time girlfriend, Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal, in her third film in as many weeks). A guilty Tom enters sex addiction therapy; Tobey, kicked out, rallies to woo back Elaine from new Euro boyfriend Goren (Glenn Fitzgerald); and the roundelay ends at the curtain call for Rebecca's new play, a Lincoln Center production taking place at a Lincoln Center that is seemingly steps away from Sardi's in the theater district.

I forgive Trust the Man for playing a little fast and loose with New York geography (the various restaurants and shops are all IDed by their signage, as if the film were taking place on a Google map). I was less tolerant for how unappealing the untrustworthy men are. For Crudup, it's as much styling as his constant inappropriate, and unfunny, comments; to suggest a family connection to the red-headed Moore, his hair and goatee (another example of poor grooming in a hair-challenged summer) have been dyed a weird reddish brown. Duchovny is a curious candidate for sexual addiction. He has some funny reaction shots, and would probably fit right into the whole Ferrell-Stiller-Vaughn comedy nexus if he weren't a little long in the tooth for the club (he had a bit in Zoolander). But the X-TV star is so passive he barely registers on celluloid, and wouldn't appear to have the spark, or desire, to set a bedroom afire.

Which brings me to a pet peeve about this genre in general. [A more specific peeve about this film is how the supporting players, including Garry Shandling and Ellen Barkin, are trotted out for one scene apiece to perform their specialty acts, as if at a block party. The movie has a lot of people who register only in bits.] In the sex scenes, the men are shirtless, but the women hang on to their bras and tank tops. I see this over and over again. It's not that I expect the women to bare all, but who has sex wearing their undergarments? What's the hangup with shoulder nudity? Given this peculiar chastity, the actors might as well be in twin beds, as if in a 1950's farce. How can you enjoy a contemporary sex comedy if the characters are having such old-fashioned sex?

[Photo K.C. Bailey]

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