Game playing is the theme here, reality manipulation and emotional chess the
moves. In its execution, the writing and directing by Matthew Parkhill is
both awkward and clever, sometimes like the work of a first-timer (it is his
first feature film), at other times rising to suspense and involvement.
Twist upon twist limits what can be said about it and even telling that much
is a risk.
The idea is to keep everyone guessing. Carmen (Natalia Verbeke), engaged to
boyfriend Barnaby (smooth, oily James D'Arcy) and living with him in his posh
London apartment, is having a last-fling dinner out with her girlfriends as
a pre-nuptual tradition. Part of that tradition, supposedly, is for the
bride-to-be to choose a man in the restaurant for a last, free kiss with
someone other than her future husband.
Enter Kit (Gael Garcia Bernal) with two mindless sidekicks, Tom and Theo (Tom
Hardy and Charlie Cox). They are seated at Carmen's big table due to
overbooking. Carmen and Kit's eyes sweep over each other in sudden
attraction. He's chosen. They kiss. Only, instead of a quick, embarrassed
smooch to satisfy the requirements of the tradition, their lips linger and the
kiss turns into screen passion. Point made. Carmen is conflicted, and that
old "I can't decide between two men" gimmick rears its exasperrating head
again. The waters buoying up the drama is shallow.
This sudden feeling for a stranger is proof of her limited affection for
Barnaby and it's Kit's job to push the romantic possibilities to exploit it,
all the while filming everything with a hand-held digital camera. His
full-time devotion to recording events provides director Parkhill with a flow
of intercuts from different perspectives, a device that grows excessive but
which has something to do with the revelations that will eventually emerge as
a plot twist and rescue effort.
Natalia Verbeke, an accomplished, beautiful Argentinean actress, fulfills all
the requirements of a romantic lead who might become the center of a love
triangle and the babe of a romantic comedy. She handles her indecisions as
well as the script allows as she balances the solidity of marriage with a
well-heeled admirer against the looser possibilities of following her
Bernal, a hot latin dynamo off "The Motorcycles Diaries," "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Bad Education," is sometimes credible as the babe magnet
the concept calls for. But a certain shallowness creeps into the scenario
from time to time to put his physical effectiveness in question. His
sensitive vulnerability in a setting of machismo is part of his charm -- that
little boy vulnerability. But charm goes only so far in a context that calls
for an ability -- at least a promise of one -- to find the means to control
physical and mental challenges. Here, he is just about keeping up with the
flow, neither he nor the writer mastering it.
The crux of the matter is Carmen's deep feelings for Kit while her needs bob
up and down in the shallows of indecision. As the challenges of her
relationships progress, a certain impotence shows up, reducing Bernal's
effectiveness and, hence, his appeal. We begin to wonder why she overlooks
it and, of course, it has a lot to do with the screenplay.
We praise, however, the overall construct, even as awkwardness in the telling
limits a feeling of complete satisfaction. Barnaby's game -- or, rather,
Parkhill's -- is, at best, a draw.
~~ Jules Brenner