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No real winner in this contest

Six comely actors are put through degrading competitions inspired by reality TV in 'Games People Play: New York.'

March 19, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

With "Games People Play: New York" filmmaker James Ronald Whitney takes having it both ways to new heights -- depths is perhaps more like it. He satirizes reality TV while showing total nudity and at times carrying sex to the verge of soft-core porn. As titillating and energetic as the film is, it is also rather sad because it reveals what aspiring actors will endure for what they apparently regard as an opportunity.

Even though these six professional actors use their real names throughout, it's pretty clear they are not playing themselves. The premise is simple: Whitney sets up an audition for a pilot for a new reality game show requiring six young, attractive and in-shape actors and actresses who are both physically and emotionally uninhibited. The audition requires they play a scene in which a former lover turns up on the honeymoon of his or her ex and convincingly seduces him or her in three minutes. Cast as the six successful auditioners are Joshua Coleman, Sarah Smith, Dani Marco, Scott Ryan, David Maynard and Elisha Imani Wilson.

Whitney has plenty of hoops for them to jump through to build up enough points to walk home with a comparatively meager $10,000 prize. The first is a fractured honeymoon skit that takes place primarily in a ladies' room, where the conversation is probingly personal. The others are equally provocative.

Intercut with these demeaning competitions are sessions with Dr. Gilda Carle, an actual psychotherapist, and entertainer Jim Caruso, designed to reveal the contestants' emotional vulnerabilities. While the line between reality and make-believe blurs elsewhere -- the deliverymen, for example, seem to be the real thing -- here the six faux contestants act up a storm, demonstrating an ability to deliver copious tears. All are skilled enough technically to suggest that in a different context they might actually possess persuasive acting ability. (The payoff of these "therapy sessions" reveals yet another level of exploitation in what is already a highly exploitative film.)

Coleman, a personable prize-winning college athlete, and the lovely and imaginative Smith possess the strongest presences among a most attractive sextet, and have been rewarded -- if you can call it that -- for their efforts by having been cast in the film's sequel, "Games People Play: Hollywood," already in postproduction.


'Games People Play'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Much nudity, considerable sex, some verging on soft-core porn

Joshua Coleman...Joshua

Sarah Smith...Sarah

Scott Ryan...Scott

Dani Marco...Dani

David Maynard...David

Elisha Imani Wilson...Elisha

A Fire Island Films presentation. Writer-director-editor James Ronald Whitney. Producers Whitney and Neil Stephens. Executive producers Richard Reichgut and David Luce. Cinematographer Neil Stephens. Running time:

1 hour, 39 minutes. At selected theaters.

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