Film review: Relax ... It's Just Sex

Published: Friday, Oct. 15 1999 3:48 p.m. MDT

"Relax . . . It's Just Sex" already appears to have two strikes against it: a bad title and the presence of two actresses with some of the most irritating voices around — Jennifer Tilly and Lori Petty.

So when this gay-themed comedy-drama turns out to be yet another rehash of the groundbreaking 1970 drama, "The Boys in the Band" — though much more heavy-handed, and with the expected but now-cliched AIDS and HIV messages — you might guess that it's a complete strikeout.

And you'd be right. Despite a couple of knowing performances (including Tilly, surprisingly enough) and a good start, the film quickly falls apart amid chaotic plotting and stiff acting.

Also, the switch in the film's tone from lighthearted humor to serious drama — right around the midway point — is so abrupt and so startling that a late attempt to bring things back to comic seems like desperation on the part of writer/director P.J. Castallaneta.

The film follows a group of thirtysomething Los Angelenos, both gay and straight. Foremost among them is Vincey (Mitchell Anderson), a gay playwright who's equally unsuccessful in his search for love and in show business.

If that isn't bad enough, he sees all his friends pairing off. Tara (Tilly) is trying to tie down her longtime boyfriend Gus (Timothy Paul Perez) and have a family. Lesbian couple Sarina (Cynda Williams) and Megan (Serena Scott Thomas) have gone on to other relationships — the former with another woman (Petty) and the latter with a man (Billy Worth).

Then there's Buzz (T.C. Carson), an outspoken artist whom Vincey has his eye on. However, Buzz quickly hooks up with Gus' HIV-positive brother Javi (Eddie Garcia), leaving Vincey alone once again.

But with encouragement from Tara, Vincey begins to grow contented with his existence. And his life is shaken up by an attempted gay-bashing incident, which also takes its toll on every other member of the group.

To his credit, Castallaneta tries to include characters from as many sexual orientations as possible. But unfortunately they're all so whiny and pathetic that spending any amount of time with them is a chore.

Of course, the uneven performances don't help. Anderson has an aggravating habit of avoiding eye contact with the camera, which only underscores how wooden his acting is. And Scott Thomas (sister of "Random Hearts" star Kristin Scott Thomas) is even worse,

"Relax . . . It's Just Sex" is rated R for several graphic scenes depicting sex between both gay and straight couples, a particularly vicious gay-bashing scene, profanity, crude sex talk and some vulgar gags, full male and female nudity and a scene of homosexual rape.

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