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The Power of Two:
A Twin Triumph over Cystic Fibrosis
by Isabel Stenzel Byrnes and Anabel Stenzel
(Discounted Hardcover from Amazon)
. "Jack and Jill vs The World"

This is another case of a low-budget NY production led by a name actor (Freddie Prinze Jr.) that could only have seen the light of day with private funding. And, as in so many similar circumstances, real talent is no sure bet.

Jack (Prinze) is a happy bachelor leading the kind of life that's as uncomplicated as he want it to be. A sterile, modernistic condo pad, a well-paying job as an account executive with a Manhattan advertising firm, new car, no girlfriends, nothing to tip the boat. Smooth sailing. And then he meets Jill and suddenly the sea of life gets a little turbulence.

Writer-director Vanessa Parise (who also plays Jill's best friend) and co-writer Peter Stebbings apparently think coincidence an acceptable substitute for creativity because they stretch it to the popping point. The cute meet takes place on the roof of Jack's firm's building. He's got a reason to be there (taking a smoke and talking to a pigeon) but Jill (Taryn Manning) shows up there... why? Apparently, this newcomer to the city is having trouble reading her subway map and has come up to gain a bird's eye view of the streets. Naturally, she asks for his help and, soon thereafter, she's his roommate.

Just as predictably, They wind up enjoying sex. But, as emotions now entangle and reorient Jack's thinking, he's suggesting pro bono work to his partner at the firm, seeing the vacuousness of promoting dumb products and deeper reasons for being alive. Yes, Jill's presence in his life has resulted in an all new slate of values.

And, for good reason. Jill is hot, with a bright, slightly dithered personality, which does her little good in landing acting jobs and, when she finally does get a commercial, in performing with much professionalism. She's also seriously sick, occasionally going into a coughing jag, breathing on an inhalator and disappearing from Jack for an overnight stay at the hospital for treatment of her Cystic Fibrosis. Just to give the comedy a lining of depth via tragedy.

Apparently, the rules of this screenplay don't allow the characters to use cell phones when they're needed, so Jack spends a restless night wondering what became of Jill. It's set up this way to make Jack realize just how important Jill has become in his life. What, wedding bells in this romantic comedy? Slow down.

After a second such disappearance, and her confession about her illness, Jack takes it as a betrayal of the Number One Rule of their relationship, to "be honest." I don't know what cloud of delusion the guy's supposed to be living under, but he's so exercised over it he actually throws this poor sensual soul that's the sweetest thing that ever entered his dull life out. Shortly ghereavter, having gone through a crisis of identity in his thirties, he quits his job. By the inevitable time he puts things in their place, he learns that Jill's left town. Guess the ending. No worries. You're not likely to be far off.

Had this outline been the basis for a major studio release, it would have gone through a process of sorely needed rewrites, some recasting, and a more skillful director. Here we find much awkwardness, too many moments left to the devices of the actors, and a general lack of drmatic cohesion.

The most egregiously damaging part of this is the lack of chemistry and the hands-off distance between the leads. The sex has more in common with the Hayes' office censorship in the 50's than today's level of realism. What sex scenes there are seem to be studies in a young girl's chastity. Kissing's allowed but any real touching between lovers never quite makes it to the screen.

One might allow for the actual chastity of a new actress reluctant to "really" express the physicality she implies in the dialogue and action. The girl is supposed to be a modern free spirit in the presence of the one person she truly loves. And Manning is no newcomer to the craft, either, having done "Coyote Ugly" and one film actually called "After Sex." This is not going to be her shining role but, then, her looks and better-channeled talent than we see here, assure her plenty of work ahead, and her 2008-09 schedule confirms it.

The problem one sees in the acting is really the absence of a strong, savvy and, above all, objective directorial hand with a solid sense of staging and timing. In this third cinema venture for Parise that she's written, directed, acted in, and produced, she's proven her creds as a one-woman employment agent. But, by now, she should be picking up that directing is a weak spot and a collaboration with a proven director is a better option for the realization of her other, rather promising, departments.

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Freddie Prinze Jr. and Taryn Manning

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