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'Venus and Mars' has one luminous star

April 18, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Lynn Redgrave's name on a cast list guarantees that a movie will not be a total waste. Redgrave is a real working actress, accepting roles in small independent movies as well as venturesome, prestigious fare such as "Shine," "Gods and Monsters" and the recent "Spider." She never accepts roles that are beneath her, and she is the single virtue of "Venus and Mars."

The contrast between her and her callow co-stars sets off a fine example of screen acting on her part -- of how to bring dimension and individuality to a supporting role through a combination of technique and imagination, and above all by suggesting the character has an interior life. The versatile and witty Redgrave always brings more to her roles than what's in the script.

In "Venus and Mars," which is not exactly terrible, merely stale and pointless, she is a military wife long ago abandoned by her husband, who has left her to raise their children in a quaint German town near a U.S. Air Force base. Redgrave's Emily has made the best of it and gets a kick out of astrology and tarot cards. The impending funeral of the local high school's beloved soccer coach has triggered a reunion of her own daughter Kay (Daniela Lunkewitz, who has since adopted the surname Amavia), in from Frankfurt, and three classmates. Celeste (Fay Masterson) has married a rich local guy with whom she is bored, and Marie (Julia Sawalha), who also remains in town and is weighed down by small children and a workaholic husband, laments that romance has faded from her marriage.

Kay has had such bad luck with men that she insists she has given up on them, while Lisa (Julie Bowen), a highly successful San Francisco businesswoman, is in desperate pursuit of one. (What made that soccer coach such an extraordinary individual that he could inspire Lisa to come such a great distance to pay her respects is made none too clear by screenwriter Ben Taylor, who adapted his novel.) Just as the four friends gather, Emily announces that since Venus and Mars will be lining up, someone is sure to fall in love.

Because Harry Mastrogeorge's direction is as routine and uninspired as Taylor's writing, what happens next is predictable and of minimal interest. Similarly, none of the four young actresses displays any distinction or much personality.

So much for celestial alignment.


'Venus and Mars'

MPAA rating: R, for some sexuality and language

Times guidelines: Adult themes

Daniela Lunkewitz...Kay Vogel

Julie Bowen...Lisa

Lynn Redgrave...Emily Vogel

Michael Weatherly...Cody

Ryan Hurst...Roberto

A Zenpix release in association with Innovation Film Group of an Atlantis Film and Mitteldeutsches Filmkontor production. Director Harry Mastrogeorge. Producers Emmo Lempert, Bernd F. Lunkewitz, Uwe Schott. Executive producers Daniela Lunkewitz, Nelson Woss. Screenplay Ben Taylor, from his novel. Cinematographer Martin Fuhrer. Editor Darcy Worsham. Editing consultant Donn Cambern. Music Nathan Barr. Costumes Barbara Baum. Production designer Boerries Hahn-Hoffmann. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

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