Full Frontal

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Give Steven Soderbergh credit for doing something a bit different with “Full Frontal.” A filmmaker of his caliber and renown doesn’t have to experiment, but he did it anyway. He gets an A for effort.

For actual output, however, Soderbergh and his pretentious, boring-as-hell “Full Frontal” get a much lower grade. The film does nothing but raise questions: What was he thinking? Did he think it turned out well? No, seriously, did he? Really? Come on, you mean to tell me he watched the final cut of this movie and thought, “Yeah, that’s good stuff”? Seriously? Wow.

Most of “Full Frontal” is about a variety of Los Angeles types who have been invited to a birthday party for a noted producer. We meet them, and then we see their lives leading up to the party. The dialogue is half-improvised; the camerawork is intentionally cheap and home-movie-ish; this is supposed to seem like real life.

Which it does, more or less, which is to say it’s not terribly interesting. Carl (David Hyde Pierce), a screenwriter, is about to be left by his turbo-obnoxious executive wife Lee (Catherine Keener); Lee’s sister Linda (Mary McCormack), a masseuse, is preparing to meet a guy she knows only from the Internet; that guy, Arty (Enrico Colantoni), Carl’s screenwriting partner, is opening a cheap new play about Hitler called “The Sound and the Fuhrer.”

Interspersed with all this, we see bits of Carl and Arty’s movie, “Rendezvous,” a mopey romance starring two Hollywood superstars named Calvin and Francesca, played by Blair Underwood and Julia Roberts. Then we ALSO see scenes of Calvin and Francesca in the making of “Rendezvous.” Oh, and Calvin’s character in “Rendezvous” is also an actor – which means Blair Underwood is an actor playing an actor playing an actor.

It’s not as hard to follow as my description of it makes it seem, but it is at least as pointless. The improvised scenes sound like they were improvised by actors who have not done any improv since they were in acting workshops 10 years ago. It doesn’t sound like natural dialogue; it sounds like actors consciously trying to be spontaneous. Julia Roberts, in particular, will continue to charm and delight America, but only if she sticks to the script from now on.

Spread out among the film’s 101 minutes are some amusing scenes, including a few that are laugh-out-loud funny. Nicky Katt is hilarious in rehearsal scenes from the Hitler play, though aren’t Hitler jokes what you make when you’re new at writing comedy and need something quick and easy? Also, Catherine Keener’s vicious, mildly insane personnel director is entertaining. I also found perverse humor in David Duchovny’s scene as one of Linda’s massage clients.

But then there is the tedium, which occupies most of the film. Whatever insights about Hollywood “Full Frontal” is supposed to offer, it doesn’t deliver them. It’s an exercise in futility, and more’s the pity that so many talented people were party to it.

D (1 hr., 41 min.; R, one scene of strong sexuality, frequent harsh profanity, brief nudity.)

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