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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren
by Wendy Toliver
(In Paperback from Amazon)

'Taken'
Mr. Neeson--behind the gun.

. "He's Just Not That Into You"

As far as miscalculations go, one or more of the creative geniuses behind this romantic comedy decided that what might have played quite smartly at 90 minutes would sustain itself under the strain of two and a half hours. For me, this amounts to bullying of the audience, though undoubtedly some audiences will think it's just fine. Getting your money's worth. For others, it's a marathon, and an expression of directorial indulgence.

Though I dutifully sat through all of it, I was on my feet, standing at the exit, before the first final credit appeared. Though exhausted, I felt my strength returning as I fled the theatre, free to think of other things, like a good jolt of espresso.

One may suppose that when you work with so many A or B-list actors, you have to give them enough material to justify their participation. Bull. Less is more.

The subject is the universal angst surrounding relationships, including that of marriage. To cover all the variations of this earth-shaking subject, authors Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo dug into their social rolodexes, memory banks and creative imaginations to make their case about the rules that order the male/female game of attraction/distraction, and the pain it causes--from a different viewpoint than "Sex and the City," which they also wrote.

The many characters needed to convey the matrix of pursuit and conquest was carried lock, stock and bodypart into the screenplay adaptation by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein for Ken Kwapis ("The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") to direct. And, direct. And, direct.

As the emotional planet of all this heat and activity, around which the others seem to orbit, is pretty (but not gorgeous) Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin)--she of enough perky personality to disarm a terrorist. It's the city of Baltimore, and she just can't find a man there who'll fall for her. She sits in bars; she can be as aggressive as a slut (though she's Disney pure); and she shows up at a man's hangout when she fails to hear from a guy who was obviously just not into her.

The guy she's panting for is Conor (Kevin Connolly), who's hot for Anna (Scarlett Johansson) and, when Alex (Justin Long), the operator of Conor's favorite bar and himself a confirmed bachelor, tries to tutor her on the rules of "guys," and why she should forget Conor and move on, he winds up being there for her from then on, like a big brother.

As for singeing hot Anna, she has a cute meet with Ben (Bradley Cooper) who is reticent to start anything of a sexual nature with her because he's married -- to Anna's somewhat cold girlfriend Janine (Jennifer Connelly) (unbeknown by Anna as to who the wife might be). Meanwhile, Neil and Beth (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Anniston) are having problems because seven years as an unmarried couple is putting a strain on Beth's beliefs in Neil's commitment. Marriage? He's not having it.

So, then, there's Mary, who seems to be playing a fill-in role without a particular romantic anxiety but, then, she's one of the film's co-producers.

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Obviously, this is an attractive collection of cast members and, for the most part, they each fit well into a format that has elements of farce, a whodunit mystery and a soap opera on steroids. The efforts to give each major role individuality ends up as questionable quirks (Janine's crazed fixation on Ben's smoking) and narrative distractions (Beth's dad Ken Murphy's [Kris Kristofferson] gratuitously inserted heart attack. What's this? To remind us that everyone has one? Or, of our mortality?

The pace of the piece is aided by all the intercutting... until, around the 100th minute mark, when some viewers will begin to feel they've had enough of the whole subject. Some people have no sense of when to end a conversation-- a disease of the judgement faculty to which directors are particularly prone. But the 129-minute length will probably be no problem at all for anyone to whom the subject of relationships is the dominating issue of their lives. That audience will get their money's worth here, in a bonanza of role identification and a little more depth than your typical Saturday Night Live skit.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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The three Jennifers: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connolly
Acting out.

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