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WHIPPED

by: James Berardinelli

Whipped isn't just a bad movie - it's an insult to anyone who pays money to see it. The production, which has lingered on the distributor's shelves do to an ongoing controversy with the MPAA (which awarded the original cut with an NC-17), would have been better left there. The problem with Whipped isn't the subject matter - scamming in today's dating world - or the lack of recognizable faces in the cast (the only actor I have seen elsewhere is Amanda Peet), but the smug, condescending tone of the script. First time writer/director/producer Peter M. Cohen approaches the subject as if his insight offers something revolutionary and startling, when, in fact, he's merely treading water in a pond where other, better films have plunged deep beneath the surface.

The closest recent cinematic cousin to Whipped is Neil LaBute's feature debut, In the Company of Men. Both pictures address issues about the deceptions and skewed expectations that often occur in male/female relationships, and how easy it is to scam someone else in a world where interpersonal interaction has become an afterthought. However, where In the Company of Men approached the subject matter with well-developed characters, effectively modulated performances, and a smart screenplay, Whipped offers undeveloped protagonists, flat acting, and a glib, superficial script. And, while the final twist in In the Company of Men was unexpected, the "surprise" dished out by Whipped is obvious.

The simple story concerns three best friends (in their late 20s or early 30s) with vastly different personalities who fall for the same woman. There's Brad (Brian Van Holt), the stock broker hotshot who likens himself to Tom Cruise; Zeke (Zorie Barber), the conceited would-be screenplay writer who sees himself as a Mickey Rourke type; and Jonathan (Jonathan Abrahams), the socially-inept, compulsive masturbator who relates to Andrew McCarthy. Then there's Eric (Judah Domke), who was once a member of the group until he got married. These four get together once a week to discuss their conquests (or, in Jonathan's case, pretended conquests) and plan scams for getting women into bed. But it all changes when they meet Mia (Amanda Peet), who willingly dates - and sleeps with - Brad, Zeke, and Jonathan. However, although Mia doesn't have a problem with this arrangement, the three men do, and it creates a strain on their friendship.

In addition to mining territory close to In the Company of Men, Whipped also tries to make forays into the raunchy sex comedy arena. However, while the grossest gags in American Pie and Road Trip worked because of an underlying charm, the lack of anything engaging or likable makes Whipped's literal toilet humor come across as crude, scripted, and painfully unfunny. And the sex-related conversations among the men sound like the things boys brag about in high-school locker rooms. Cohen may have advanced into adulthood, but his screenplay is in a state of arrested adolescence. I'm sure all the 14 and 15-year old males who sneak into this film will enjoy themselves. (As a side note, this is perhaps the first film I can remember when much of the profanity seems gratuitous and unnecessary, as opposed to a natural component of the way the characters speak.)

Amanda Peet gets top billing as Mia, primarily because she's the only "name" actor Whipped can boast. It's hard to believe this is the same woman who displayed her diverse charms during the course of the otherwise unmemorable The Whole Nine Yards. In that film, she was lively and charismatic. Here, she's dull and lifeless, with little more personality than the wallpaper. Of course, it doesn't help that she's acting with three men whose level of performance rivals that of high school play extras. It's unlikely that either Brian Van Holt, Zorie Barber, or Jonathan Abrahams will b

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