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`What Love Is' misses its intended definition

There is too much chatty talk and no answer to the riddle of romance in Mars Callahan's drama.

March 23, 2007|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

"What Love Is" is about pain. Not the pain of a broken heart or the cliched Mars-Venus differences between men and women in which the film traffics, either. The latest feature from writer-director-producer-actor Mars Callahan devotes itself to inflicting serious pain upon innocent moviegoers who wander into what is perhaps the single most poorly conceived and ineptly executed movie released to theaters in quite some time.

Callahan's previous feature, "Poolhall Junkies," was a sub-Scorsese crime-underworld drama that was full of bluster and bravado and yet still had a sentimental soft spot -- the pitch probably went something like "The Color of Money" meets "Diner." Whatever inspired Callahan to move from that particular piece of pulp fiction to the self-consciously talky and theatrical "What Love Is" can be clear only to him and his downtrodden muse.

A man comes home late on Valentine's Day to discover that his girlfriend is dumping him. She's left a note and will be back soon to pick up her stuff. Somehow this becomes the time for a party, as a string of men and women parade through his door, each of them exactly on cue -- after a while it seems that Larry the neighbor and Mr. Furley from "Three's Company" should be dropping in at any moment.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 27, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
'What Love Is': The review of "What Love Is" in Friday's Calendar section said the movie was playing at theaters in West Hollywood and Hollywood. It also is showing at the Regal/Edwards Atlantic Palace in Alhambra and several theaters in Orange County.

"What Love Is" overflows with mind-numbing patter, bizarrely delivered with the arch formality of David Mamet, with the net effect of being yelled at for no reason. Callahan's idea of verbal wit runs along the lines of making a pun out of the similarity between "abhor" and "a whore." It would be tempting to say that "What Love Is" may have been better presented as a stage play if only Callahan actually had anything to say regarding men, women and their differences regarding relationships.

His overuse of multiple angles and smash-cutting (presumably for the exact purpose of making things seem less stagy) only serves to highlight the empty calories of the dialogue.

In outtakes during the end credits, Callahan repeatedly shows himself yelling "cut" or whatnot to highlight that he's the man in charge, as if that's worth taking credit for. Now and then there is something strangely right about films this defiantly wrongheaded, but "What Love Is" never rises above the leaden, overbearing qualities of Callahan's dialogue and staging. Sometimes bad just stays bad, transcending only into worse.

"What Love Is." MPAA rating: R for pervasive language including graphic sexual dialogue, and some erotic dancing. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. Exclusively at Mann's Beverly Cinema Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at La Cienega Boulevard. (310) 652-7760; the Regent Showcase, 614 N. La Brea Ave. (323) 934-2944.

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