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Movie Review

'Pompatus' Wrestles a World of Self-Doubt

July 26, 1996|JOHN ANDERSON | FOR THE TIMES

So, uh, what's a pompatus? Is it, in fact, a word? The male quartet suffering through adulthood in "The Pompatus of Love" wrestles with these very questions, engaging in less-than-Joycean wordplay ("prophetess?" "impetus?" "profitless?") before getting to the end of their story and our patience. Profundity? No, Steve Miller.

"Some people call me the space cowboy," Miller sang in "The Joker," one of the more relentless remnants of classic rock, and it's the song's nonsense line about the "pompatus of love" that serves as the film's MacGuffin. Which is both ludicrous and perfect, since the film is basically about the uninvolving being obsessed with the uninteresting.

Imagine being stuck in a taxi with four New Yorkers primed on a certain stimulant, sharing with you their innermost convoluted thoughts while channeling Deepak Chopra and Larry King, and you have some idea of what it's like sitting through this endless journey into young adult angst, the inscrutability of women and the guilt of hormones. There is actually a scene like this. The cabby looks suicidal.

"Driver, set your sextant for these coordinates," chirps Runyon (Tim Guinee), who is, naturally, the group's writer and who, of course, is directing the cab to a topless bar (where the doorman is on a first-name basis with all four). As the image of men everywhere sinks slowly into the sunset and the scene lingers, lingers, lingers, Mark (Jon Cryer), Josh (Adrian Pasdar), Phil (Adam Oliensis) and Runyon bond, bond, bond and even meet a prominent playwright (Roscoe Lee Browne) who is pathetic in his pursuit of young flesh, but not as pathetic as our heroes, who are, after all, still young and seem fated to stay that way.

Written by Cryer, Oliensis and director Richard Schenkman, "The Pompatus of Love" is, yet again, one more time, a movie about just how difficult adulthood is. Which is like complaining that you can't wear the pants you had when you were 12 because you grew out of them. Stuff like this is supposed to happen. Snap out of it, guys. Your parents went through a Depression and a world war. You can't decide on an apartment and you're ready to hand over Czechoslovakia.

*

Schenkman maintains a frenetic pace, using a lot of quick cuts between characters, allowing them to tell the same story and finish each other's sentences--which sound like nothing you've ever heard outside of, say, a sophomore term paper on the existential elements of "F Troop." It's a device that wears out its welcome by the first 10 minutes of the film, but he keeps it coming.

"The Pompatus of Love" has an impossible mission: Convincing us that there's something significant, or even intriguing, about the struggles of youngish men coming to terms with being male. Which it then turns around and self-defeats: Mark, who strives to be the kind of evolved human he writes about in his feel-good books, loses Natasha because he's too understanding.

The women--including Kristen Scott Thomas, Paige Turco, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Jennifer Tilly and, particularly, Mia Sara--are far more engaging than our heroes, who wade through several episodic mini-tragedies, including Runyon's trip to L.A. and his meeting with a TV producer. It's beyond burlesque, and its self-satisfied air--in a movie rife with cameos and no reason for being--makes you want to say, yo dudes, you're the disease, not the cure.

* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: Gratuitous nudity and adult, or adult-like, situations.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

'The Pompatus of Love'

Jon Cryer: Mark

Adrian Pasdar: Josh

Tim Guinee: Runyon

Adam Oliensis: Phil

Mia Sara: Cynthia

A BMG Independents release in association with CFP Distribution and In Pictures. Director Richard Schenkman. Producers D.J. Paul, Jon Resnik. Screenplay Jon Cryer, Adam Oliensis, Richard Schenkman. Cinematographer Russell Lee Fine. Editor Dan Rosen. Costumes Carolyn Grifel. Music John Hill. Production design Michael Krantz. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

* Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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