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IN SHORT: The kind of story that requires you to have a decade or so of dating hell under your belt, to appreciate the niddling nastiness that plays out on screen. [Rated [R], 93 minutes]
Before we begin: In Cranky's last day of film school screenwriting class, oh so many years ago, the teacher (in real life a script reader for a major studio) warned us about the art of titles. Her main suggestions: be very sure of your work, especially if you give your project a title that the critics can use against you.
That would include words like "stinks", which aptly describes the first 15 or so minutes of writer/director Jeff Franklin's debut on the big screen, after a very successful career on the small. That quarter hour kickoff is so totally unfunny that one critic walked out of the press screening. His loss, 'cuz from that point on, slowly but surely, Love Stinks develops as an insidious and occasionally hilarious black comedy.
It's a small story, told in flashback from the toilet of a Las Vegas bound jet. Inside said cubicle are best buds and TV sitcom writing partners Seth Winnick (French Stewart) and Larry Garnett (Bill Bellamy). Yeah, think all you want about the Mile High Club, I warned you that the set up to this flick stinks. A year earlier, Larry married the ever scrumptious Holly (Tyra Banks) and groomsman Seth met bride's maid Chelsea (Bridgette Wilson). It was lust at first sight for Seth, Chelsea knew immediately that he was "the one." From that moment on, well once they dumped their dates, it was a fast track through the self-proclaimed rules of when to hit the hay and generate tremors readable on the Richter scale, even though she's a cat person and he's into dogs.
Before Chelsea turns into a angry, nasty, manipulative, controlling rhymes-with-witch, she gets to parade around in lingerie and garters. Which is a lovely diversion while French Stewart searches for the background of the character he's portraying. After a year of waiting, Chelsea goes ballistic because Seth presents her with diamond earrings instead of a singular diamond ring. For his part, the battles are more fodder to plug into his hit sitcom which allows California palimony laws a full field of action to play on.
What makes Love Stinks different from, say, The War of the Roses is that all the battles are fought on a very small field. Think of it this way: if everything that your partner does that annoys you, that you still ignore, were pushed just a bit further, how would you increase the vice versa while trying to maintain some kind of civility? Cranky got sucked into the humor when the flatulence jokes were unleashed -- 'cuz it comes in the same way it does for all of us who have been coupled up, in bed. Yes, I'm making a broad assumption here, but the comedy goes much broader but no further down the toilet. Warren Zevon put it simply in a song title many years ago, "Lawyers, Guns and Money..." but what is a very small movie turned from painful to painless in a relatively short period of time.
On the negative tech side, Franklin's teevee roots show. Love Stinks looks like a television shoot, all close-ups or medium close-ups shot well within the crop lines etched onto a film camera's viewfinder. Extra points are deducted for allowing a sound boom to be seen in his visual field.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Love Stinks, he would have paid . . .
Mid-week rental level. It's shot for teevee and you'll want to hit that fast forward button (and once or twice the replay) a couple of times.
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