Denise Calls Up (Hal Salwen)

Rating: ** (out of ****)

A one-joke movie, and the joke isn't even especially funny. The premise is simple and gratingly cute: a group of friends and acquaintances are too busy and/or too insecure for face-to-face contact, and conduct their entire lives via phone and fax. The film, until the final scenes, is literally nothing but shots of people talking on the phone; it's the ultimate talking-heads movie. This might have made for a clever short film, or sitcom episode, or off-Broadway one-act play, but it simply can't sustain a feature-length movie, especially when the dialogue is so clumsy and contrived, and the jokes, with few exceptions, so utterly lame. (I did enjoy My Dinner with Andre, incidentally, but that film was about something more than its own premise.) Salwen hired some fairly good unknown actors (Tim "I have no presence; please hire me for your ensemble film" Daly was the only one I recognized), and they sometimes manage to transcend their material -- I especially liked Liev Schreiber (Jerry) and Alanna Ubach (Denise) -- but on the whole I found it an ordeal. It was awarded a "special mention" for the Camera d'Or (Best First Film) at Cannes, however, and is reputedly doing boffo business in France, so maybe it plays better in subtitles.