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With: Marley Shelton, Ron Eldard, Patrick Breen, Sanjiv Jhaveri, Kelly Cole, Kyra Sedgwick, Zoe Caldwell, Marisa Tomei, Peter Dinklage, Hollis Granville, Sarita Choudhury, Zofia Borucka, Billy Strong, Bruno Amato, Donna Hanover
Written by: Patrick Breen, based on his play
Directed by: Fisher Stevens
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual images and language
Running Time: 89
Date: 06/15/2002

Just a Kiss (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Kiss and Sell-out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening today at the Lumiere, Just a Kiss can be classified as one of those "alternate reality" movies that were so popular a few years ago, like Sliding Doors, Run Lola Run and Twice Upon a Yesterday, except that it would have worked so much better dealing in only one reality.

Written by Patrick Breen and directed by Fisher Stevens (both actors in this reality), Just a Kiss begins with that fateful kiss. At first we don't know the players, dancer Rebecca (Marley Shelton) and television commercial director Dag (Ron Eldard). But we soon learn that Rebecca is involved with Dag's best friend, actor Peter (Breen). Not to mention that Dag is also already involved, with the sexy Halley (Kyra Sedgwick).

As the three friends enjoy breakfast one morning, Rebecca calls Dag's cell phone and confesses to all three of them, resulting in a multiple break-up. The slightly off-kilter Rebecca invites Halley to crash at her place and regroup.

Out of necessity, Halley takes her up on the deal but soon finds she's not alone. Cellist Andre (Taye Diggs) knocks on the door, bearing healing chocolates. Halley welcomes him to join her in her grief. It turns out Andre is also on the outs with his wife, flight attendant Colleen (Sarita Choudhury), though he doesn't admit to being married right away.

While Halley decides to sleep with Andre, Colleen meanwhile has picked up on poor Peter, who has gone to the airport to be alone and feel like a loser for a while. (He stares at the departing/arriving board and considers visiting cities like "Loserville.")

I suppose all six characters might have been happy simply hopping beds, each ending up with a new mate, but a seventh character complicates matters. Psycho bowling alley waitress Paula (Marisa Tomei), who nurses an unhealthy obsession with Peter (via his television acting), seduces Dag and tortures the living daylights out of him.

The movie follows through with all this wanton sex, cheating and lying, and three of the characters die untimely deaths. Up to that point, I was enjoying Just a Kiss, excited that it had the guts to engage in truly black comedy.

But that's when the movie wonders, "What would happen if that night between Dag and Rebecca never took place?" and spends a good long while re-arranging all of its elements into a ludicrously happy ending.

I know this will sound like an uneven comparison, but imagine, say, Harold and Maude ending the way it does and then director Hal Ashby suddenly jumping out and shouting, "just kidding!", rewinding a bit and finish by showing Harold walking off into the sunset with a young, sexy girl on his arm.

That was just the first example that popped into my head -- Just a Kiss ranks nowhere near Harold and Maude. But I did get a kick out of its selfish, pleasure-seeking characters in a refreshingly nasty kind of way. These characters would never gain hero points by visiting a sick friend or helping an old lady across the street.

The bug-eyed Breen is especially effective, cast, as he is, as the "Peanut Butter Eagle" on a television ad. And Tomei comes out the winner as the dominatrix in the low-slung leather pants. She wavers her energy from scene to scene, coming across as almost motherly in some scenes, and downright scary in others.

But that ending betrays the whole thing. I know that Breen and Stevens probably meant to say something important about fate and destiny and reality, but when their characters are so suited to dark comedy, who cares?

Best Buy Co, Inc.