"There are movies that define every decade," according to the posters for the debut film from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer, Body Shots. To its credit, the poster does not go on to claim that this is one of those movies. If Body Shots defines any decade, it’s the cheesy 1980’s of John Hughes flicks and softcore USA Network midnight movies.
Starring Sean Patrick Flanery (Simply Irresistible), Tara Reid (American Pie) and a host of other essentially interchangeable twentysomething actors, Body Shots follows eight young people through the Los Angeles night as they fuel up on alcohol, talk frankly about sex and eventually hook up (willingly or not). As is becoming something of a trend, the time sequence is juggled and the point-of-view fractured, and the characters have a tendency to address the audience directly. But anyone hoping for a dizzying, supercharged hit of Ecstasy akin to Doug Liman’s Go from earlier this year will be sorely disappointed.
The movie opens with young lawyers in love Rick (Flanery) and Jane (Amanda Peet) in bed together, fully clothed. As we soon learn, they are the only two of the eight main characters who did not actually get it on the night before. When Jane’s friend Sara (Reid) shows up, bruised and sobbing and claiming to be the victim of a sexual assault, we are launched into a series of flashbacks from the previous evening of debauchery.
Complete with throbbing synth score and blurry background effects, these flashbacks appear to have been shot by a Miami Vice cinematographer who has spent the past 15 years stranded on a desert island. We are introduced to the rest of the fun-loving crew, including Michael Penorisi (Jerry O’Connell), the testosterone-poisoned football hero whom Sara claims as her assailant. The characters dance and drink and throw around "edgy" one-liners about blowjobs and fisting; dialogue that might once have been shocking but is now a staple of Sunday night television on HBO’s Sex in the City. The date rape is presented in he said/she said fashion, but whether or not Sara was actually assaulted appears a secondary concern to the filmmakers compared to whether or not the incident will tear happy couple Rick and Jane apart.
Body Shots wants to have it both ways – to be both a pumped-up youth-oriented sex comedy and an important film dealing with Serious Issues. The movie is thrown hopelessly out of balance by the extended middle section focusing on Trent (Ron Livingston), the "outrageous" free spirit who shows up at a dance club in golf knickers and argyle socks, and might as well have the words COMIC RELIEF tattooed across his forehead. It’s a tough segue from Trent’s wacky shenanigans back to solemn date rape discourse, and Cristofer and screenwriter David McKenna (American History X) aren’t up to the challenge. The blustery back-and-forth bickering and predetermined ambiguity make for a needlessly protracted and wholly unsatisfying conclusion.
It’s worth noting that the film’s original title was Jello Shots, before the dessert manufacturer lodged an objection against its product being depicted as potential date rape lubricant. It’s too bad. Jello Shots is a much better title for a movie firing such insubstantial ammunition.