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. "London"

Imagine a Woody Allen film where instead of the angst and neuroses of New York intelligentsia battling their emotional demons in cascades of dialogue you have truly hot babes and drug users from a different slice of New York life battling their emotional demons in cascades of dialogue-- and you'll have a sense of what "London" is about.

It should also be noted at the outset that the title applies to a character, not a city.

One morning in a New York loft, our main man Syd (Chris Evans) gets a wake up call from a friend informing him that his estranged girlfriend, London (Jessica Biel), is being honored with a going-away party at a friend's place--a party to which he has not been invited! Shit, shit, shit! The news has the effect of an adrenalin-caffeine cocktail in dispelling any sleep grogginess, and he reacts by throwing furniture around. It also has the effect of telling us the depth of his feelings for his ex-girlfriend, whose estrangment he thought of as temporary until now. What can he do but crash the party and discuss it with her?

In a prelude clip we have seen the pair, in action. Making love. In no uncertain terms. She is beautiful; she is erotically all there. It comes very close to an "XXX" moment and parents and the timid should be forewarned of that content, which may just slip into this account of it from time to time, so read no further.

We also learn, as we follow the pair in flashbacks that, though they had a good 2-year relationship going, the spine in the soup was Syd's inability to say the words, "I Love You" to the lady. For her, it's a sore point. For us, it's the crux of the play, er... movie.

Badly in need of a crutch to hold him up for his impending emotional ordeal of facing London again, he arranges a meet with an acquaintance who is holding a stash of coke and willing to sell some. The bartender there is gorgeous, sensual Mallory (Joy Bryant), part of London's circle of friends, and she gets invited to the party. But not before Syd and new pal Bateman (the coke supplier) hook up and exchange wares.

Recognizing now that he might be in need of an ally, and getting along quite well with his new buddy, he convinces Bateman to come up to the party at least for one drink. Bateman agrees, they meet sexy Maya (Kelli Garner) on the way up, and arrive early. The hostess is clearly pissed and the threesome end up in the upstairs bathroom.

This room is elegant, and a stage set that's going to be the virtual dramatic battleground for a good part of the movie. Maya engages into the conversation and leaves, Syd and Bateman go beyond bonding by spilling their guts concerning their deepest fears and feelings of inadequacy. Mallory arrives and joins in long enough to realize that she wants to end up with Bateman. After all the histrionics and gut-wrenching admissions, Bateman all but forces Syd to confront his feeling of abject inadequacy and go down to finally talk with London. Better to try and fail than to be too much of a wuss to even try and then have to live with it, he advises.

Does Jason Statham get a shot in this movie at displaying the physical skills that have made him a household name on the action hero circuit? Yes. Can I answer any more questions about the resolution of the central relationship? Obviously not. So, let me tell you what I think is missing here.

For a first time writer-director, Hunter Richards has turned in a rousing piece of work. His dialogue is crisp, serves all the right dramatic purposes, and provides his excellent cast to go deep and produce. Curiously, however, none of them shows any signs of being affected by the lines of coke they sniff up nor the hi-test booze they consume. Nada. They remain glib, articulate, quick-minded. Not a stumble in the bunch.

Perhaps because of that, there's something less than believable or engaging by the deeply expressed horrors of their life. It's more interested fascination than identification or involvement. Bateman's speech about his particular agony, which he's been holding back as though to build it to a climactic spill of confessional intensity, despite Statham's superb delivery, little more than a speech to concoct a dramatic and stagy moment.

Which brings me to a theory. Though the press notes make no mention of it, and because of minimalist settings, intensity of language, and the exaggerated dialogue, I'm willing to bet this started out as a stage play. Which may have everything to do with why it conjures Woody Allen (pre-"Match Point") for me. If my surmise is correct, I have a piece of advice for writer-director Richards: "Save the original script. After its film run it's a natural for off-Broadway.

Which is not intended as a put-down of the movie. Having won significant festival notice, it is a very muscular ensemble piece. It gives us the chance to imagine Jason Statham beyond his "Transporter". Could he be grooming to take on Russell Crowe? Another action hero with a powerful yet thinking man's screen presence? Just maybe a "Master and Commander" lies in store for Statham.

Chris Evans demonstrates acting wattage beyond his Johnny Storm in "Fantastic Four" -- if only it wasn't turned up so much. Jessica Biel's looks fulfill every frame she's in, much as she did in "Stealth," which was that sad film's highlight. She and Joy Bryant are beauties to watch. Or, watch out for.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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Jessica Biel and Chris Evans as London and Syd
Feelings unexpressed. Regrets to follow.
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