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by: James Berardinelli

Body Shots is a graphic and sporadically compelling motion picture that uses equal parts comedy, introspection, and tragedy to offer a measure of social commentary about the confusion and frustration faced by superficial twentysomethings as they navigate a treacherous sexual road map. It's an edgy movie that doesn't pull any punches, and, despite some of the most frank discussions about oral sex in any multiplex-bound film, Body Shots managed to avoid the NC-17 kiss of death. (Don't ask me how...) However, even though it may be playing at a local theater, this movie is not mainstream. The characters often come across as shallow and self-absorbed, and those aren't the most appealing individuals to stay with for 100 minutes. Fortunately, as the film unspools, we detect layers in the protagonists that are not apparent from the outset. Body Shots confronts themes and issues that most movies approach from an oblique angle, if at all. Everything in this film does not work, but its failures are often more interesting than many movies' successes.

Body Shots is not constructed like a conventional movie. Filmmaker Michael Cristofer (the award winning playwright of "The Shadow Box" and the director of the made-for-TV picture, Gia - as well as the screenwriter for The Bonfire of the Vanities) refuses to adhere to traditional narrative methods. His characters frequently address the camera directly, as if they are answering questions for a documentary interview. The story skips back and forth in time. And the technique of the unreliable narrator is used to good effect. Add to that a lively camera that prefers odd angles, unusual visual effects such as filming at six frames per second to make objects appear to move fast, and a pulsing soundtrack, and Body Shots never lets the energy level dip.

The movie tackles many issues - some serious and some trivial - about sex, love, and dating in today's society. Of course, these are concerns that have obsessed nearly every generation to inhabit human civilization, but Cristofer's approach is particular to the Generation X point-of-view. The characters in Body Shots are all looking for human contact. They'll take sex, but they want love. As one guy puts it, "If you really got close to everyone you [had sex with], you wouldn't be this lonely." Another develops an odd equation: sex without love equals violence. In addition to exploring the difference between lust and love, and what constitutes dating in the late '90s, Body Shots takes time out to give tips on oral sex and explain why nice guys are boring. Much of the film's second half deals with the controversial issue of what constitutes date rape. As has been illustrated repeatedly in the courts, a line that should be clear often becomes blurred, especially when alcohol and low self-esteem are involved.

Cristofer presents a narrative that traces 24 hours in the lives of eight people as their paths cross and diverge. There are four girls and four guys - all physically attractive, all immature and self-obsessed, and all with a lot of money to burn. The women are Jane (Amanda Peet), Sara (Tara Reid), Whitney (Emily Procter), and Emma (Sybil Temchen). The men are Rick (Sean Patrick Flanery), Michael (Jerry O'Connell), Trent (Ron Livingston), and Shawn (Brad Rowe). These two quartets meet at a club, where most of them get drunk, then pair off for the night. Jane goes with Rick, and Sara leaves with football player Michael, even though she has been dating nice guy Shawn. Distressed at seeing his girlfriend depart with another man, Shawn proves he's not all that nice when he corners Emma in an alley for a hot encounter. Meanwhile, Trent learns that Whitney has some kinky sexual preferences.

All of this is a prelude to the movie's central conflict. Late at night, a bleeding and disheveled Sara arrives at Jane's door, claiming to have been raped b


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