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Finding Bliss -- Film Review

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Falling far short of its cutting-edge intentions, "Finding Bliss" is a love-vs.-sex, art-vs.-commerce romantic comedy that finds a good girl working in the porn industry. With its pointed quandaries and obvious narrative parallels, writer-director Julie Davis' scenario never quite convinces. It feels more like a collection of dressed-up -- or undressed -- postfeminist ideas play-acting for laughs.

The film, which opens June 4 in New York and a week later in Los Angeles, is not without its mildly entertaining moments and flashes of insight, but none of it makes a lasting impression. Perhaps the most notable thing about this femme-centric "Boogie Nights" Lite is that Garry Marshall and Ron Jeremy both have cameos.

Davis ("Amy's Orgasm") based the tale of a struggling filmmaker on her own post-film-school travails and her love-hate relationship with a much-needed editing job at the Playboy Channel. Her alter ego, Jody Balaban (Leelee Sobieski), won honors at NYU film school, but the closest she's gotten to a Hollywood job is a traffic-directing gig on a studio lot.

But then she gets a call from Irene Fox (a spot-on Kristen Johnston), the savvy businesswoman who runs Grind Productions, purveyor of "adult entertainment" (the p-word being passe). Eager to cross over into the art house, Irene wants to put Jody's filmmaking smarts and female perspective to work on Grind's next project, "Finding Bliss." Seeing a chance to use the company's soundstage and equipment to shoot her own no-budget film at night, Jody signs on as an editor and screenwriter. The material grosses her out, and then it turns her on. All of which fuels a good deal of back-and-forth about what women want.

Much of that debate takes place between the almost virginal Jody and the dreamy Jeff Drake (Matthew Davis), director of the porn-film-within-the-film -- not to be confused with "On the Virge," Jody's autobiographical-romantic-comedy-within-the-autobiographical-romantic-comedy. Jeff's protective shell of cynicism and carefully meted out backstory are as forced as everything here, but there's persuasive chemistry and vulnerability between the two characters as they do their dance of loathing and attraction.

Mainly, though, things just get sillier. Table reads for a porn film? Grind's XXX stars moonlighting in Jody's movie? The lead role in Jody's labor of love (the alter ego's alter ego) goes to a wholesome non-porn actress (Denise Richards) who dispenses on-the-nose insights about her character, and thus about Jody.

The interplay of the two films Jody is working on is so heavy-handed that what should spin into delirious screwball territory instead barely generates energy, although Jamie Kennedy and Mircea Monroe are agreeably sweet-dumb as two of the actors, and P.J. Byrne is likable as a chronically apologetic colleague. But as the film veers between cartoonish and earnest, it doesn't so much find bliss as try very hard to manufacture it.

Opens: June 4 (Phase 4 Films)
Production: A Lightshow Entertainment production in association with North by Northwest Entertainment
Cast: Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Davis, Denise Richards, Donnamarie Recco, Mircea Monroe, P.J. Byrne, Kristen Johnston, Jamie Kennedy, Caroline Aaron, Tim Bagley
Screenwriter/director: Julie Davis
Executive producers: Nick Vetere, Brandon Nutt, Glen Hartford, Leelee Sobieski
Producers: Jeff Rice, David Ornston, Dan Toll, Richard Cowan
Director of photography: Peter N. Green
Production designer: Vincent Defelice
Music: John Swihart
Co-producers: Scott Mandell, Elizabeth Sobieski, Don Bloomfield
Costume designer: Lisa Caryl
Editors: Julie Davis, David Beatty
MPAA rating: R, 95 minutes