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Expired

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We are supposed to hate the male lead in “Expired.” He’s a jerk, and he’s dating the protagonist, a mousy, harmless woman who has done nothing to deserve such treatment. And yes, I hate him, so mission accomplished. But I dislike the movie, too, because it forces us to endure so much meanness without a proper resolution at the end of it. It’s all ordeal and no payoff.

The woman is named Claire (Samantha Morton), and she is a timid meter maid in Los Angeles, making her one of the most despised people in town. Her new boyfriend, a fellow parking-enforcement officer named Jay (Jason Patric), responds to people’s contempt for his profession by being an arrogant, aggressive, emotionally immature jackass. This extends to his personal life, too, including the women he dates.

Claire lives with her mother (Teri Garr), a stroke victim who has lost her voice but not her mind. “Dad used to buy her flowers,” Claire tells Jay. Jay replies, “He must have been a great guy, like me.”

Jay is hopelessly insecure, obviously, but the film (the first theatrical feature from writer/director Cecilia Miniucchi) does not want us to sympathize with him. Every now and then we’ll see a side of him that makes us think he’s human, and we start to feel a little compassion — and then he does something absurdly rude or abusive and all bets are off.

A movie like this can go one of two ways. Claire can either muster the self-respect to call Jay on his behavior and dump him, or she can soften his heart and get him to become a better person. In the meantime, though, we must spend two hours fuming over his orneriness, enraged by his hateful, argumentative idiocy. (One of the best examples: He says, “I don’t like music.” She says, “Really?” He says, “What, you think I’m lying?!”)

The film wrings some laughs out of Jay’s caustically funny behavior. Some of what he says is so outrageously mean that shocked laughter is the natural response. Then comes awkwardness, as we realize he’s being mean not to some anonymous pest (like John Cleese used to do in “Fawlty Towers”) but to someone we like.

A further problem is that Jay’s behavior simply rings false. He’s not a jerk in a realistic way; he’s a jerk in a movie-character way. There can be no insight into a character as falsely contrived as he is. There should be insight into Claire’s psyche — Why does she put up with him? — but while Samantha Morton’s performance is acceptable, it’s not very expansive. I wonder why Claire puts up with Jay, but then I also wonder why I put up with the movie. Claire has no excuse, and neither do I.

C- (1 hr., 50 min.; Not Rated, probably R for abundant harsh profanity, some strong sexuality.)

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