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MPAA Rating: R (For Strong Sexual Images and Language)
Running Time: 90 minutes
Starring: Patrick Breen, Zoe Caldwell, Sarita Choudhury, Taye Diggs, Ron Eldard, Kyra Sedgwick, Marley Shelton, Marisa Tomei
Written by: Patrick Breen
Directed by: Fisher Stevens
Retail Price: $29.99
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (10 Scenes)
Released: March 18th, 2003
In this black comedy, a group of single thirtysomething friends living in New York City become entangled in a bunch of problems dealing with love that all start when two of them accidentally kiss each other. This then leads to a series of chained events that range from dramatic to absurd as all the characters contemplate themselves and their love lives, each hoping for that perfect relationship. Involved in all of this is Paula (Marisa Tomei) who is a waitress, Peter (Patrick Breen) who is an actor, Dag (Ron Eldard) who is a television commercial director, Halley (Kyra Sedgwick) who is a videographer, Rebecca (Marley Shelton) is a ballerina and finally Andre (Taye Diggs), who is a cellist.
I really don't know what else I can tell you about "Just A Kiss" as far as plot, since this movie is pretty loose and feels all over the place. The film reminded me a lot of Edward Burns' "Sidewalks Of New York," which was also about New Yorkers with their own quirks looking for love (and in case you need to know, Paramount released that film as well). The differences though? "Sidewalks" is a much better film with its realistic approach and mockumentary style. Here, "Just A Kiss" tries to be groundbreaking and the ultimate quirky romantic comedy for the new century but ends up falling flat. And falling really hard.
I'm really curious what Patrick Breen, the co-star and the writer of the movie, was trying to say with the film. Is it about obnoxious, impulsive people who don't think before they act and as a result everything gets screwed up? I think that was the point, but the film's story arc and what it does with its characters left me in a tizzy. The film is overly sexual when it doesn't need to be. Breen's script feels very artifical and really lacks any worthwhile development. I found everything to be so emotionally uninvolving. I couldn't care less about what happens to these "interesting" characters. It's like Breen thought a great story would involve love, people acting stupid and characters we're supposed to identify with but we really can't. Pardon my cynical views, but I'm getting annoyed at all these little indie romance films where the characters have "odd" jobs that make the world seem so expansive and "cool." A bowling alley waitress? A viographer? A ballerina? A cellist? Come on. Yes, those are real respectable jobs. But I think the movie tries to play them off in non-essential ways. Oh, and the movie really isn't that funny but it tries so hard to be.
"Just A Kiss" also tries to set itself apart with its visual style. This does not make the film quirky, but rather, really annoying. The film uses the rotoscope technique, used in the wonderful Waking Life to great effect, where live action footage is digitally drawn over to make it look animated. Supposedly this is supposed to give the film some punch, but let me tell you, it's useless. It seems like the filmmakers were just playing around and having some fun and thought it'd be really cool if it was used constantly - almost as a way to draw the audiences in and make them think the movie was something special. Sorry, but that's not the case. I loved "Waking Life" and thought the rotoscope technique worked perfectly for it (and it even used it for the whole film!). That was a special film for many reasons and the process helped enhance what Linklater was trying to create. But for "Just A Kiss," it's the complete opposite. It basically comes down to using the technique for the sake of using it. I would have been fine if it was used in a sporadic, symbolic way (as if to draw the boundaries between crazy illusion and reality), but here characters become animated out of nowhere, sex is animated and even backgrounds go back and forth from being animated to normal. I found it to be very distracting and pointless. Actually, after awhile, it made feel a bit sick. What should be a selling point to a movie helps ruin it. I hope the rotoscope feature is used again in film, but actually when it means something and can be bearable to watch (as in "Waking Life.")
Fisher Stevens directed this movie, who a lot of you might remember as one of the 80s and early 90s best character actors (how can you not love Ben from the "Short Circuit" movies!?). I guess I could blame him for using rotoscope, and while this isn't his first time behind the camera before, I really don't think he knows where to take Breen's script either (though he did direct another one of Breen's scripts - the short film "Phinehas"). The film jumps around, has off pacing and always feels like it's in some confused, dazed state. Stevens' directing is just like the material - it's pretty off and feels random in nature. Yes, the film isn't aimed to be so linear, but a lot of it feels like filler and all the scenes just don't feel so necessary. For what's supposed to an "out there" film, it comes across as standard. A note to Mr. Stevens: don't quit your day job.
If there's one saving grace to this film, it is the acting. I hate to bash Breen again but... he's a bit akward acting at times, though I will admit I liked his performance more and more as the film went along. Everyone else is pretty natural and are good in the film... it's just too bad they can't save it completely. I really enjoyed Taye Diggs here (he's going to be one actor to keep watching), while Marisa Tomei and Kyra Sedgwick do their best to inhabit their characters. They do a fine job and you can sense what they are about through their acting, I just wish there was more to them. Ron Eldard gives a pretty terrific performance for a pretty weird character while I wish there was a bit more of Marley Shelton (haven't seen her around lately) who's perfectly fine here... even if her character's a bit disturbing. When it comes down it to though, the actors are limited by the material they are given.
In the end, "Just A Kiss" probably does have some potential hidden within it. There are some decent moments here and there, but none of which you'll probably remember the next day. The film is really a pointless, pretentious romantic comedy with some dramatic elements thrown in for good measure. Even though some of you might be distracted by the whole rotoscope thing, pretty visuals can't cover up a bad plot and annoying, substandard characters. This movie is just obnoxious in its writing and execution. If you ask me, "Just A Kiss" needs just a kick... in the ass.
"Just A Kiss" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the results are pretty damn good. There are some pieces of dirt and blemishes here and there which can be distracting, but the live actions equences look a bit overxposed and have some kind of gloss to them. Detail is fine but fleshtones don't look as good as they should be. Color saturation is decent though, which is a plus. There is also a lot of shimmering, edge halos (ugh) and noise to be found. As far as the annoying animated sequences though, those look great (even if it got to the point to make me sick). The colors are finely tuned, well saturated with great hues and look vibrant. It is a fine transfer overall, but certainly could use some improvements.
The only audio track included here is an English Dolby Surround track. Who knows why there isn't a full blown 5.1 Dolby Digital mix (maybe it has something to do with the film's budget), but this mix works fine and I don't think a 5.1 mix would have helped it so much. Dynamics are decent but there isn't much in the way of sound effects. There is a lot of talking in the movie, so thankfully dialogue sounds clear and crisp. Fidelity is a bit low, but things pump a little when there is background music (such as in the opening bar scene). There really isn't much to say about this track except that like the film, it has limits - but it works well with the limits. Also included are English closed captions and English subtitles.
When this DVD was announced, there were supposed to be a few supplements included. Oddly enough, there's NOTHING. Blah.
"Just A Kiss" was critically panned when it opened, and if Paramount is hoping to gain some audience for the movie on DVD, then chances are they won't have much success. The film's presentation is nice, but the lack of supplements and rather high $29.99 retail price make it a tough one to recommend. Given the fact it's not even a great movie to begin with, all that I have to say is that if you're a giant Fisher Stevens fan (all three of you) or you are the least bit curious, a rental will suffice.