on September 02, 2001 by Wade Major
   If Woody Allen has made a career out of playing nebbishy Jewish writers romancing beautiful women far outside his league, his myriad imitators have practically made it an industry. There are the occasional exceptions, like Albert Brooks, whose similarities to Allen's oeuvre are outstripped by their own unique attributes. But, by and large, the majority of such knockoffs are obvious and unimaginatively imitative. In the case of Mike Binder, star/writer/director of "FourPlay," the effort is sincere and better than most, though it still winds up being a frustratingly obvious fusion of elements from both "Manhattan" and "Husbands and Wives."

   Set in London, "FourPlay" weaves through the intersecting and cross-sectioned relationships of a typically dysfunctional quartet of lovelorn romantics. There's Ben (Binder), an American sitcom writer who has recently arrived in London to write for a show starring his expatriate friend Carly (Mariel Hemingway) and produced by her husband Allen (Colin Firth), who then make it their mission to fix Ben up with their French-born author friend Fiona (Irène Jacob).

   Anyone who needs to be told that the couples eventually start playing romantic roulette with one another obviously hasn't been getting out enough. It's a thoroughly predictable course of twists and turns that beats the same old themes about relationships and people's inability to commit, the pitfalls of selfishness, unwillingness to accept happiness, etc., so forth and so on.

   There is an occasional quippy one-liner to spruce things up, and the four leads are more than up to the task, but this is very tired material in the extreme and offers nothing of substance that wasn't already surgically probed by Woody as far back as the late '70s. That Hemingway herself is an Allen veteran from the far superior "Manhattan" simply makes the comparison all the more unfavorable.    Starring Mike Binder, Mariel Hemingway, Colin Firth and Irène Jacob. Directed and written by Mike Binder. Produced by Jack Binder. A Sunlight production. Romantic comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 86 min.

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