Dir: Fisher Stevens. US. 2001. 90mins.

This New York ensemble comedy is like a drunk at a party. It thinks it's being witty, kooky and perceptive, but to those of us on the other side of the cranium, it's just slurring its speech. Director Fisher Stevens is a stage, film and TV actor who doubles as a writer and director of stage plays. The cast includes two bankable actresses, Marisa Tomei and Kyra Sedgwick. But although a smoldering Tomei and an overstrung Sedgwick lift many of the scenes they appear in, and in spite of a few good one-liners, the film has us wincing as often as it has us chuckling. The film was not wrapped yesterday, and its Berlinale excursion is unlikely to rouse the distributors. A limited US East and West Coast run is probably as much as Just A Kiss can aspire to.

Commercials director Dag (Ron Eldard) - named after UN peacemaker Dag Hammarskjold - lives a SoHo life in a SoHo loft with his girlfriend Halley (Kyra Sedgwick). His friend Peter (played by the film's screenwriter, Patrick Breen) is an actor who plays the 'peanut butter eagle' in a TV commercial - one of the moments when the gap between the film's sense of what people will find funny and what this particular person found funny was at its widest. When Dag spends a night of passion with Peter's girlfriend Rebecca - a mixed-up ballerina - a chain of events is set in action that ends in three funerals and no wedding. Tomei plays a sex-crazed nurse who moonlights as a waitress in a bowling alley, and two other 'kooky' characters are shoehorned into complete the seven-man ensemble and complicate the farce.

The idea, presumably, was to transplant a sophisticated French romantic comedy to New York, where it would be garnished with Woody Allen dialogue ('I like to wake up next to people who have as close to one personality as possible') and served with a sprinkling of Spike Jones surrealism. And then to add a Sliding Doors ending that shows how everything might have been if the kiss between Dag and Rebecca really had remained just a kiss.

But too often the comic timing is out, the dialogue stilted, and the performances (particularly those of the two male leads) forced. Most of the film has a fairly conventional look, just one notch up from an episode of Cheers. But certain sequences - and certain on-screen details, like Tomei's eyes, or a cascade of sleeping pills - are animated in the street-smart graphic style pioneered by Richard Linklater's Waking Life. These are fun to watch in an MTV sort of way, but they mainly go to illustrate the maxim that if you want to put the icing on the cake, first bake yourself a cake.

Prod co: GreeneStreet Films
US dist:
Paramount Classics
Int'l dist:
Lakeshore Int'l
Matthew Rowlans
Exec prods:
John Penotti, Dolly Hall, Tim Williams
Patrick Breen
Terry Stacey
Prod des:
Happy Massee
Gary Levy
Sean Dinsmore
Main cast:
Marisa Tomei, Kyra Sedgwick, Ron Eldard, Patrick Breen, Marley Shelton