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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Love' Tries but Remains Mostly Unhip

June 23, 1995|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

English has not been good to Denys Arcand.

Working in his native French, Arcand became one of Canada's most accomplished directors. His previous works include the intelligent and witty "The Decline of the American Empire" and "Jesus of Montreal," both international successes. And now comes the runt of the litter, "Love and Human Remains."

Arcand's first film in English, "Remains" is based on a play by Brad Fraser, who also wrote the screenplay. Though the original was reputedly a success in several countries, it is hard to see why based on what's provided on screen.

"Remains" is yet another "love in the age of AIDS and anxiety" saga, with the camera following seven loosely connected characters as they search for relationships in the most tedious places. It's not so much that we've seen all this before, though we have, it's that the protagonists this time around are maddeningly dreary.

The story pivots around two roommates, David (Thomas Gibson) and Candy (Ruth Marshall), who were lovers before David realized he was gay and took to saying clever things like "Honey, I'm homo" when he enters their apartment.

As if this weren't troublesome enough for Candy, she is dissatisfied with her job as an underpaid book reviewer and is having trouble sorting out her social life. Should she get involved with that nice bartender (Rick Roberts) who keeps mooning over her or try something completely different with the persistent lesbian (Joanne Vannicola) she's met at the gym?

David is by far the more prominent and off-putting of these characters, a former actor who says he became a waiter because "it's more artistically satisfying." A bored, sarcastic club-hopper, David may be unpleasantly smug and self-centered, but that doesn't stop everyone else from finding him simply fascinating.

That group of admirers include a 17-year-old busboy (Matthew Ferguson) who has a crush on him, a bemused dominatrix with a psychic streak ("Exotica's" Mia Kirshner) and a childhood friend (Cameron Bancroft) whose most noticeable characteristic is that he just might be the only person in town who's even more unpleasant than David.

Adding a certain undefined quality to the mix is the fact that a serial killer is stalking the unnamed city where these people live, and the film offers periodic chances to watch the evil-doer at work. That's about as edifying as it sounds.

Few things are as enervating as a movie that thinks it's hip but isn't. Filled with deluded emotional deadbeats, "Love and Human Remains" offers no reason why anyone should want to chart the progress of its characters' insect lives. As for Denys Arcand, he has done better than this before and surely will again.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong sexual content, language, violence and some drug use. Times guidelines: The film is explicit without being noticeably erotic.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

'Love and Human Remains' Thomas Gibson: David Ruth Marshall: Candy Cameron Bancroft: Bernie Mia Kirshner: Benita Rick Roberts: Robert Joanne Vannicola: Jeri Matthew Ferguson: Kane A Max Films Inc. production, in co-production with Atlantis Films Limited, released by Sony Pictures Classics. Director Denys Arcand. Producer Roger Frappier. Executive producers Roger Frappier, Pierre Latour. Screenplay Brad Fraser. Cinematographer Paul Sarossy. Editor Alain Baril. Costumes Denis Sperdouklis. Music John McCarthy. Production design Francois Seguin. Sound Dominique Chartrand, Marcel Pothier. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

* Playing in selected theaters.

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