Full Frontal
dir. Steven Soderbergh
Opens Fri Aug 2 at the Guild 45th.

Steven Soderbergh has experimented with narrative form so much in his mainstream films (such as Out of Sight and, especially, The Limey), the prospect of him having the budgetary freedom inherent in digital video was exciting. How would he exploit this relatively new medium? As it turns out, he goes the same route as many before him: He indulges his actors at the expense of a story.

Sure, he was already going down this road with Ocean's 11, and while that script wandered all over the place, at least it gave a focus to some entertaining performances. In Full Frontal, there are a few relationship-based story lines, but no overall plot. A couple of people have birthdays, some romances misfire, and somebody dies. That's it, and it's not enough.

Full Frontal feels improvised in the worst sense. The actors may love the feeling of working without a net, but we're stuck watching them fall into patterns of dialogue where they don't seem to know where they're going. For example, as two women talk about a birthday present that one gave the other, it becomes painfully obvious that neither one knows what it was until the end of the conversation, when they both seem to believe it was a vibrator. If the scene was actually written this way, well, that makes it even worse.

The movie is not all bad. There's some fun stuff, like bits of a stage play called The Sound and the Führer, a Springtime for Hitler-like production that places sensitive therapy-speak in the mouth of Adolf Hitler. Then there's Julia Roberts' character, interesting mainly for its parallels to Roberts herself and her former relationship with Benjamin Bratt (in the movie, she flirts with a TV actor who wants to break into movies, and who performs a rap near the end that is reminiscent of Bratt's spoken word poetry in Piñero, before she eventually runs off with "a lighting guy").

As Soderbergh has resumed his love affair with Hollywood, his movies have gotten less interesting. Perhaps he'll redeem himself with George Clooney starring in the remake of Tarkovsky's Solyaris, due out this winter.

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