He said, she said

Lauren Hutton may not be the best actress in the world, but she sure has sex appeal. And she has a nice ability to mock her sexiness at the same time she is playing to it, which is a trick not every actress can pull off. In Just a Little Harmless Sex, Hutton also gets to utter possibly the best entrance line to be found in a movie all year. Running into her remorseful son-in-law, who has been booted out by his wife for a dalliance with a prostitute, she purrs, "So what's all this about a blowjob?"

Hutton is the standout in an ensemble cast that features Alison Eastwood, Kimberly Williams, Jonathan Silverman, William Ragsdale, Jessica Lundy, and Robert Mailhouse, most of whom are better known for their TV credits than for their feature roles. Likewise, while both producer-director Rick Rosenthal and co-writer Marti Noxon have worked on features, they are most closely identified with their work for the small screen, including the series Life Goes On. The principals' extensive background in television may help explain why, aside from the R-rated catalyst that kicks the plot into gear, Just a Little Harmless Sex feels and plays more like a prime-time television series than it does a feature film.

Rosenthal says he was interested in examining how men and women relate: how men act when they are just around other men, how women act when they are just with other women, and how the two sexes interact when they are together. The story he concocted finds happily married Alan (Mailhouse) sitting uncomfortably at a strip joint while his two best buddies, bitter divorce Danny (Silverman) and inveterate bachelor Brent (Ragsdale), ogle the girls. He finally makes his exit, stopping in the rain to help a woman whose car has broken down. She turns out to be a prostitute--a very persuasive one--and just as Alan succumbs, the cops bust him.

Wife Laura (Eastwood, Clint's daughter) wastes no time in kicking him out of the house. Desperate to save his marriage, Alan seeks guidance from his friends, probably the two people least equipped to offer sound advice. Meanwhile, Laura turns for solace to her two best friends, wallflower Allison (Williams) and wild woman Terrianne (Lundy).

The twist director Rosenthal came up with to try to make all this seem and sound fresh was hiring two writers--one male, the other female. Noxon (co-producer of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) wrote the scenes of the women hanging out while Roger Mills, making his screenwriting debut, penned the male sequences. It wasn't until the third act, when the characters all converge at a swank watering hole, that the writers themselves finally worked together. The result may be authentic--the dialogue presumably was based on conversations each writer has had with friends--but an awful lot of it sure sounds manufactured. The biggest surprise is how unsympathetic the friends are. Neither Danny nor Brent is the least bit sensitive to Alan's predicament; they completely gloss over his unhappiness and regret. And the women aren't much better. It turns out that one of Laura's friends has the hots for Alan, a fact the third friend is only too happy to reveal. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Granted, the movie is supposed to be a sex comedy and, presumably, none too serious, but a little depth to the characters would have made them and their shenanigans a lot more involving. It must be added that the filmmakers show a certain irresponsibility by allowing their characters to imbibe vast quantities of liquor and still climb behind the wheel of a car. In all fairness, the movie improves as it goes along. By the end, everyone has become pretty likable, which makes the entire picture seem better in retrospect than it did while actually sitting through it. And, of course, one should never underestimate the allure of Lauren Hutton's knowing smile.

Just a Little Harmless Sex.
Directed by Rick Rosenthal. Written by Marti Noxon and Roger Mills. Starring Alison Eastwood, Kimberly Williams, Jonathan Silverman, and Lauren Hutton. Opens Friday.


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