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MOVIE REVIEW

A wasted effort for some film acting pros

December 07, 2007|Dennis Lim | Special to The Times

There are no laughs to be found in writer-director Michael Traeger's would-be comedy "The Amateurs," but there is one big mystery: how actors of this caliber could have been convinced to take part. The movie's one-joke premise is of the Decent Folks Doing Naughty Things variety, familiar from such whimsical Brit-coms as "The Full Monty" (unemployed steelworkers strip), "Saving Grace" (old ladies grow pot) and "Calendar Girls" (old ladies strip).

Here it's small-town dimwits make porn. Andy (Jeff Bridges), a layabout divorcee, embarrassed by the flamboyant wealth of his teenage son's new stepfather, hatches a money-making venture: He enlists his buddies to help produce a triple-X amateur feature.

There are some feeble stabs at movie-biz satire. Otis (William Fichtner) does little except sound off and act sleazy, so he's appointed executive producer. The resident buffoon (Joe Pantoliano gets to be writer-director.

Bridges, a total pro, adopts a genial, "Lebowski"-ish manner, bringing a level of commitment that the material renders pointless. Ditto Ted Danson, who's trapped in an even worse part as closeted homosexual Moose. These caricatures are almost three-dimensional, though, compared with the female roles (Valerie Perrine's aging stripper, Lauren Graham's ex-Playboy bunny), which are about as thankless as they are in traditional pornography.

The offensiveness doesn't stop there. Moose's sexuality is used for cheap giggles (he has a predictably stressful turn in front of the camera), and the film slips into painfully misguided racial humor when its doofus pornographers go looking for well-endowed black men.

It's no surprise that "The Amateurs," initially titled "The Moguls," has been languishing on the shelf nearly three years (it premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 2005). Traeger, a first-timer whose most notable previous credit is the screenplay for 1998's "Dead Man on Campus," papers over the many lapses in logic and common sense with a wall-to-wall voice-over narration. The curdled mix of raunch and schmaltz tips toward the latter after a late-inning twist that strives for fairy-tale implausibility but simply insults the viewer's intelligence.

"The Amateurs." MPAA rating: R for sexual content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes. Exclusively at the Landmark, 10850 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 474-6291.

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