What Love Is

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "What Love Is." 

If you're searching for "What Love Is," you won't find answers in this self-proclaimed "romantic comedy for men. You'll get locker/powder room chatter about fornication and all the strategies and methodologies of those anxious to go belly-to-belly with the nearest potential candidate. But this produces only heat, no light.

This is a discouragingly bad indie film. The discouragement comes from the fact that an Outside of Hollywood filmmaker, Mars Callahan, had the balls to take a huge gamble: raise enough coin to hire such name actors as Cuba Gooding Jr., Sean Astin, Gina Gershon, Anne Heche and Matthew Lillard for one week. Then slam-bang through a mostly one-set, 87-minute screenplay with multiple cameras covering the action so that no moment is wasted. You want such a movie to succeed.

The problem is that if Callahan spent even a week writing this script, he wasted four good days. The dialogue, characters and situations are distressingly bad. So despite its name actors, the film's theatrical prospects are dimmer than the intelligence of most of his characters. The film may play marginally better on cable and DVD.

It's Valentine's Day, and Tom (Gooding) means to pop the question to his lady of three years. He drops into a neighborhood bar for a shot of liquid courage, then invites his pals back to his place in a half-hour to help him celebrate his girlfriend's expected answer.

Now stop right there. If you plan to spend a night proposing and getting cozy with your girl, would you invite a bunch of drunks back to your house? No wonder when he arrives home, Sarah has left her packed bags by the door and a note saying adios.

One by one, his buddies drop in. Anyway, each guy represents a different point of view on matters sexual. Womanizing Sal (Lillard), who packs a gun and coincidentally got dumped this day too, is a virulent sexist. Upstairs neighbor Ken (Callahan) is happily married. George (Astin) is a "tree hugger," whatever that implies in terms of romance. And Wayne (Andrew Daly) is flamboyantly gay, which gives him the outsider's view.

Everyone voices his views, often in monologues delivered at breakneck speed. (When you've only got a week, time is money.) Points of view are extreme and usually chauvinistic.

Then the doorbell rings. Sarah? No, someone invited five striking young women from the bar to a Valentine's party. After a divertissement, in which the five males simultaneously fantasize that five girls strip and pole dance in Tom's living room, the actual women enter and head straight into very large and surprisingly feminine bathroom.

Now it's the girls' turn to gossip and talk dirty about sex and guys. Is it a compliment or a rebuke to say they are as crude as the men?

Finally, in Act III as it were, the boys and girls regroup in the living room. They drink, flirt and flaunt their cynicism about sex and love. By the time Sarah does ring the bell, you will not care what happens to her and Tom.

With all that footage rolling out of four cameras, screenwriter/director/co-star Callahan chooses to jump from one angle to another every three to six seconds, creating a jarring rhythm that yanks you right out of the movie. Concentration on what is being said is further stymied by the rat-a-tat-tat delivery of the lines.

The actors who fare the worst are Lillard, who has an impossibly nasty and cranky character to play, and Gooding, who looks simply lost. Then again, he's been looking that way for years.

WHAT LOVE IS
Big Sky Motion Pictures
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Mars Callahan
Producers: George Bours, John Hermansen, Mars Callahan
Executive producer: Rand Chortkoff
Director of photography: David Stump
Production designer: Jaymes Hinkle
Co-producers: Joy Czerwonky, David Pritchard
Costume designer: Roger Forker
Editors: Andrew Dickler, Joe Plenys
Cast:
George: Sean Astin
Ken: Mars Callahan
Rachel: Gina Gershon
Tom: Cuba Gooding Jr.
Laura: Anne Heche
Katherine: Tamala Jones
Sal: Matthew Lillard
Amy: Judy Tylor
Debbie: Shiri Appleby
Wayne: Andrew Daly
Running time -- 87 minutes
MPAA rating: R

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