Fisher Stevens hasn’t made a decent movie since his turn as evil Iggy Koopa in Super Mario Bros. The streak continues with his directorial debut, Just a Kiss, most likely because it lacks John Leguizamo in a plumber suit. It does, however, feature a shirtless Taye Diggs, which is almost as good.
Written by Stevens’ pal Patrick Breen, Just a Kiss jumps back and forth through the cross-pollinated love lives of seven monogamy-challenged New Yorkers. Dag (Ron Eldard) is a commercial director who lives with videographer Halley (Kyra Sedgwick) and made pal Pete (Breen) the reluctant eagle-costumed spokesman for a brand of peanut butter. Pete dates Rebecca (Marley Shelton), a meek ballerina, who is friends with cellist Andre (Diggs) and his airline-employee wife Colleen (Sarita Choudhury). And Marisa Tomei is Paula, the whip-cracking, shackle-wielding girl who loves and destroys them all, laughing all the while.
Breakups, hookups and dustups abound; just about the only thing Stevens and Breen forget to stick in their movie is a little thing competent writers and directors like to call consistency. One moment there’s the happy absurdity of Paula’s obsession with Pete’s peanut-butter bird, and the next there’s a cue-card scene with Eldard, Sedgwick and Breen that makes Bob Barker look like Laurence Olivier. (For a while I wondered what kind of dirt Stevens had on his actors to blackmail them into being in his movie, until I realized that most of them are just as badly in need of work as he is.)
Just a Kiss makes sparing use of rotomation, the paint-on-live animation technique of last year’s Waking Life, accenting certain scenes and ideas with colorful leaps into fantasyland. Too often, though, the movie forgets where it is and where it’s going when it returns to live action. We know that unfaithful pseudo-sophisticates are usually adrift on one philosophical sea or another, but that doesn’t mean we want to be constantly reminded of that fact. Whenever Just a Kiss veers into truth territory, the results are trite and hackish.
But then Diggs removes that shirt and smiles that smile again, and all is forgiven. Almost.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Birmingham 8 (Old Woodward Ave., S of Maple, Birmingham). Call 248-644-3456.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.