Just a Kiss (2002) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual images and language     
Running Time: 89 min.

Cast: Ron Eldard, Patrick Breen, Kyra Sedgwick, Marley Shelton, Marisa Tomei, Taye Diggs, Peter Dinklage
Director:  Fisher Stevens
Screenplay: Patrick Breen (adapted from his play)

Review published May 17, 2003

Reviewing a film like Just a Kiss presents a predicament for me because, even after spending 90 minutes watching it, I'm not really sure how I feel about it, and even if I were to come to a conclusion, if I would recommend it. It's not very often that a film completely confounds me, but this one was so scattershot between moments of brilliance and moments of ineptitude, funny bits and those that are just distasteful, that all I could do is stare in fascination at the film's ceaseless energy expended just running around in circles.

The story revolves around a circle of friends who seem to be having troubles with fidelity and trust. Ron Eldard (Mystery Alaska, Deep Impact) plays Dag (that's "dahg," not "dawg"), who finds his relationship with sweetheart Halley (Kyra Sedgwick, Phenomenon) on the skids when Rebecca (Marley Shelton, Sugar & Spice), the crazy dancer Dag had a fling with in France, confesses about their moment of indiscretion. Rebecca was also cheating herself, although her boyfriend Pete (Patrick Breen, Galaxy Quest) is too in love with her to let her go, no matter how badly he feels he is treated. Emotionally distraught that she continues her trend of infidelity, and the fact that even his best friend Dag has take advantage of him, he gets it on with a woman with a penchant for airplane sex, Colleen (Choudhury, A Perfect Murder), who is married to Andre (Diggs, Go), the occasional lover of Rebecca who seduces Halley on the rebound.

*Whew!* What a set of coincidences and convolutions, and I still haven't mentioned psycho-chick Paula (Marisa Tomei, Someone Like You), who is infatuated with Pete, attempts rough sex with Dag, and even makes a pass at Rebecca.

With quite a number of characters to follow already, it doesn't help that the film is largely told without linear continuity, flashing back and forth in time without giving any indication of when it does. Hopefully, you will be able to keep close track of events to piece it all together, and luckily, the characters are eccentric enough to easily tell apart, with situations sensational enough that you won't be likely to forget them. Nevertheless, if you leave the room for a period of time, it still might be a good idea to press pause, or you may be completely mystified upon your return.

Watching Just a Kiss results in a bit of a head-scratcher. It rarely seems to go anywhere, and when it does, it restarts itself, and then doesn't seem to go anywhere again. Not in a bad way, just aimless.  It's like taking a stroll in an unfamiliar neighborhood without a particular destination in mind; it occasionally ends up in the same place as when it started, despite trying different routes.

Actor Fisher Stevens is the director here, and he does manage to make this as energetic and crazy a comedy as he can, although some viewers may be put off by the frequent flashbacks and the tendency to add watercolor effects from time to time for reasons which aren't readily clear. It feels almost like stream-of-consciousness filmmaking, where the script for any day's shoot was written as a continuation of what they shot the day before, instead of going in with a completed script with an overall vision. Then the scenes were edited together in almost random fashion, tacking on an alternate ending based on ideas they ditched early on.

Just a Kiss is a pretentiously hip affair, so smug in its cleverness that it may lose some viewers long before it ends, and disappoint others who may feel the film never really begins. As a dark comedy though, it does work well most of the time, and if you can put the plot aside for the sake of extracting some good chuckles, you'll come away liking the film for the experimental lark that it is. It's a quirky, aimless endeavor, and even if it never really serves a satisfying purpose, there's enough fun along the way to merit a viewing for the adventurous.

In the end, or is that the beginning(?), I liked it...I think. 

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo