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MOVIE REVIEW

Top-notch `Race You to the Bottom'

The first feature by Russell Brown is a witty and satisfying exploration of romance.

March 30, 2007|Kevin Thomas | Special to The Times

Russell Brown's engaging first feature, "Race You to the Bottom," provides an illuminating glimpse into some of the more challenging complications that contemporary relationships can present. Writing and directing with perceptive wit, Brown adroitly captures the quicksilver shifts in moods within a tempestuous, passionate romance between two articulate, free-thinking young people who discover they are not as mature as they thought.

In one of several deft flashbacks, Brown reveals that Nathan (Cole Williams), a preppy-looking travel writer, and Maggie (Amber Benson), a poli-sci major in search of a career, cross paths at the Mulholland Fountain. The two click, and Nathan offers Maggie his card. When the film opens, they are in the throes of their affair, and Nathan has asked Maggie to join him on a tour of Napa Valley's romantic hot spots for an article he is writing. It will be the first time they have gone off together; the catch is that both have live-in boyfriends who are under the impression that Nathan and Maggie's relationship is platonic.

Maggie is captivated by the confident Nathan, who has a seemingly boundless sense of fun and spontaneity. She experiences a feeling of freedom and exhilaration with him that she has not found with other men. When she finds herself falling in love, the trouble starts. Hurt feelings lead to horrible behavior, especially on Nathan's part.

The problem isn't so much that Nathan sees himself as essentially gay but that he has no sense of the responsibilities that real love entails. In the meantime he sees no reason to rein in his gifts as a serial seducer. Maggie as well has considerable growing up to do if their relationship has a prayer of enduring.

Benson is irresistible as Maggie -- exquisite, vulnerable yet resilient. Similarly, Williams is consistently persuasive, even when his Nathan is cruel and obnoxious. Maggie and Nathan remain involving, not only because of Benson and Williams but also because Brown has written them as individuals capable of honesty. "Race You to the Bottom" has an ending that is rightly open yet thoroughly satisfying -- as is the entire film.

"Race You to the Bottom." MPAA rating: R for sexual content, language and brief drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes. Exclusively at the Regent Showcase, 614 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 934-2944.

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