Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Mini’s First Time/The OH in Ohio*

The sporadically annual tradition of dueling plot treatments always begs comparison. Antz and A Bug’s Life were both witty experiments that suffered from a shared metaphor—insects utilize social hierarchy, get it? Armegeddon and Deep Impact were two sides of the same coin in the global catastrophe genre. This week offers performances by two seasoned actors from the wizened pantheon of popular middle-aged Hollywood men, both playing mack daddies to doe-eyed young women, which is more credible than talking critters— but possibly less credible than a sudden apocalypse.

The films operate under a self-imposed “independent” moniker, which is a distraction; low budgets notwithstanding, their baseline appeal stems from marquee names. Would you rather watch Danny DeVito nail Parker Posey in a pool or Alec Baldwin get it on with Nikki Reed? The OH in Ohio and Mini’s First Time are structured on this star-driven mechanism, respectively. But crass celebrity intertext only allows the material to look familiar, a ruse established in order to avoid inspection of the tenuous scenarios. And there’s a reason why a cigar is not always just a cigar.

In this battle of narratives, Mini’s wins by playing a safe card, relying on film noir conventions. That doesn’t make it particularly great, but at least it’s commendable for steering clear of cringe-worthy sentimentality. Narrated by Reed, who perfectly nailed adolescent angst in Thirteen, she now portrays Mini, a Los Angeles teen femme fatale with a twisted mind apparently fixated on bits from Cruel Intentions. Frustrated over the apathetic stance of her seedy, washed-up showbiz mom (Carrie-Ann Moss), she joins an escort service, promptly leading her into bed with her unwitting stepfather, corporate hound Martin (Baldwin). Though initially fazed, Martin quickly accepts the amoral love triangle, much to the delight of Mini. Her lust for “first times,” a term brandished with broad implications, comes from an immovable superiority complex, driving her to jolting matricidal aspirations.

As Mini drags Martin into the mix to be her ramshackle shill, the film suddenly becomes a mean-spirited Double Indemnity, especially after the clandestine homicide happens and Luke Wilson shows up playing a skeptical detective. Then the tensions build, mostly carried by Baldwin’s ability to convey the decomposition of confidence. It’s to his credit that Martin’s attraction to Mini never comes across as camp, although the idea that the romance leads to his downfall while Mini escapes unscathed is ludicrous. “The rich can’t get away with murder in this town,” Wilson threatens him, so he just concedes.

The principle cast has done better work in films that borrow noir elements: Baldwin in The Cooler, Moss in The Matrix, Reed in Thirteen and Jeff Goldblum (here playing the nosy next door neighbor) on Broadway in The Pillowman. Their joint presence turns Mini’s into a classy joke, where the punchline is its very existence.

By comparison, OH sets out as a routine sex comedy, and hardly musters more than a few incidental laughs. Posey plays orgasm-deficient Priscilla, “the prettiest girl” in Cleveland, according to her husband Jack (Paul Rudd). Despite the praise, Jack gets fed up with his wife’s inability to accomplish basic bedroom responsibilities, and the couple splits ways rather innocuously. While Priscilla goes on a dildo binge and finally finds her hotspot (no thanks to Liza Minelli, in a funny cameo playing a mystical masturbation teacher), her ex ends up banging one of his high school science students (Mischa Barton). The infraction is treated as lightly irreverent humor (when the gym teacher, meagerly portrayed by Keith David, brings up the potential controversy, Jack counters, “my cock’s jammin’!”) and Rudd’s talents fall by the wayside.

Meanwhile, Priscilla centers her romantic intentions on Wayne, the old guy who installs pools around town (DeVito), either because he’s a lonely little man or she digs his adorable mullet. DeVito is exuding comedic gold right now as the avaricious father figure on FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where he conveys the hilarious delusion that women find him attractive. Wayne also harbors this mental ailment— but so does the film.

*A version of this review appears this week in the New York Press.


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