The Pompatus Of Love

on October 10, 1996 by Kim Williamson
   What, Mark, Runyon, Phil and Josh wonder early and late in this dramatic comedy, is the word Steve Miller sings in his '70s song "The Joker"--is it the "pompadors," "pompons," "impetus" or "impotence" of love? During the course of "The Pompatus of Love," all those variants and more are explored in this story of the romantic vigors and vicissitudes of these four barely thirtysomething New Yorkers. Mark ("Pretty in Pink's" Jon Cryer) is a white-bread therapist in love with the smoky Tasha ("Girl 6's" Kristen Wilson); Runyon ("Heaven and Earth's" Tim Guinee) is a struggling playwright who can't forget long-departed-for-L.A. Kathryn (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson); Phil (stage vet Adam Oliensis) is a happily married plumber desirous of the elegant Caroline ("Angels & Insects'" Kristin Scott Thomas); and playboy Josh ("Just Like a Woman's" Adrian Pasdar) sleeps with anything female. The curtain is set for a north-south-east-west look at passion in the '90s.
   Like Sony Classics' recent "Denise Calls Up" (which also featured Wheeler-Nicholson), phone calls and phone machines play large roles, cutting dramatic possibility--but so does the fact that all four lead characters come from the same compass direction. Each comments on the dire straits of contemporary relationships; each suffers a frenzy of desire; each is given long bursts of dialogue delivered in stagey rataplan. Surprising given that the script is by Cryer, Oliensis and former music-video maven turned feature director Richard Schenkman, the women hit more authentic notes, especially the stressed-over-normalcy Wilson, Paige Turco ("Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II") as an abused wife and Mia Sara ("Timecop") as the stranger that might turn Josh around. The always piercing Scott Thomas, whose championing of the project engendered the Gallic support of the U.S.-French co-production, is under-employed. Screened at the '95 Cannes and now being distributed stateside by the increasingly aggressive In Pictures, "The Pompatus of Love" despite its pretenses has no great depth (to quote from a better, earlier movie about New York romantics, "Behind your pose there's just more pose")--but then it is based on a rock song, not a Rilkean sonnet. Fitfully original, it also borrows; during one taxi-ride sequence, jokes are retreaded from "Beaches," "...When Harry Met Sally" and "Parenthood," and numerous Allen-esque to-the-camera monologues suffer inertia despite quarter-second cutting. And the film's conclusion--that the mystery of love is the mystery of love--might make for neatly reflexive mathematics, but not for a narrative climax. "It's the `pompatus' of love," one player discerns at the end. Another asks, "What's the `pompatus' of love?" The reply: "Exactly." Exactly.    Starring Jon Cryer, Tim Guinee, Adam Oliensis, Adrian Pasdar, Mia Sara, Kristin Scott Thomas and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson. Directed by Richard Schenkman. Written by Jon Cryer, Adam Oliensis and Richard Schenkman. Produced by D. J. Paul and Jon Resnik. An In Pictures release. Drama/comedy. Running time: 99 min.
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