Swingers (Doug Liman)

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

No doubt there are many for whom the notion of a movie about aspiring L.A. actors attempting to pick up women with "hip" imitation Rat Pack lingo is cause for rejoicing, but I must confess that I walked into Swingers feeling both wary and skeptical, in spite of the generally good notices it's garnered -- I've seen enough movies about young men who don't understand women to last me until Terrence Malick's next film. (I used to say "Kubrick's next film," but Stan finally got his ass in gear earlier this year.) I always try hard to keep an open mind, regardless of the director's previous work or the subject matter or the "buzz," but sometimes it's next to impossible; move the initial 's' to the right of the 'w' and replace it with an 'h', and that's the picture I was expecting. (Go ahead and do it. I'll wait. Oh, and pretend you're British; if you can't, then drop the 'g.') What I saw, however, was a harmless, genial, pleasantly sweet-natured film that's more about insecurity and the value of false bravado than about which nearby planet each gender hails from (is that damn thing off the bestseller list yet?). The film's predatory faux-hipsters -- the most memorable and prominent played with marvelous straight-faced aplomb by Vince Vaughn -- are merely cautionary foils to its hapless protagonist, Mike (played by screenwriter Jon Favreau), who looks like a bouncer but behaves like Woody Allen circa Play It Again, Sam. (In fact, Vince Vaughn's Trent is essentially Bogart to Favreau's Woody, now that I think about it; I picked Play It Again, Sam at random from Woody's early pictures, but the comparison is more apt than I realized.) Swingers' best and funniest scene, in which needy, nervous Mike does battle with the answering machine of a woman he's just met in a bar, will strike a chord with everyone, male or female, who's ever temporarily misplaced his or her sense of self-worth. Charming and occasionally hilarious though it is, however, the film is ultimately too slight and inconsequential, with far too much emphasis placed on the absurd vernacular Trent and his buddies employ; "You're so money, baby" is kinda funny the first ten times you hear it, but its comedic appeal plunges dramatically thereafter, and for long stretches there's no other diversion to be found. There's a home-movie, ain't-we-hilarious? aura present in many scenes; you can imagine Vaughn and Favreau improvising at a Hollywood party, then cracking up and blurting out simultaneously "We gotta put that in the script!" That sort of casual frivolity is forgivable in a novice effort, but next time I'm hoping for more substance and less attitude. And I don't ever want to hear "money" used as an adjective again as long as I live.