Friday, February 27, 2009

The Trouble with Indy Movie Romance

Hyatt Regency Century Plaza looks like a very nice hotel. In addition to their well-appointed rooms, they keep all their annoying guests on the same floor. At least it seems to work that way in Gene Rhee’s The Trouble with Romance (trailer here), an anthology film about four problematic couples staying in four different rooms in the Hyatt, which opens today in New York and is available from Warner Brothers On-Demand.

In room #1, Jill certainly looks healthy, but mentally she is a mess. During a one night stand, she starts hallucinating visions of her former boyfriend, much to the understandable alarm of her partner for the evening. Next door, a married couple checks-in, looking to spice things up with a romantic evening alone. Or so he thinks. Actually, the wife has very different plans, involving her attractive co-worker, Rachel.

The real trouble with romance in Rhee’s film is that there just is not very much of it to be found. Eventually, romance does show up (sort of) in the third story. James is clearly too immature for his girlfriend Stephanie. He is the kind of guy talks like Snoop Dog will be calling him to hang, while slaving over spreadsheets in his office cubicle. When he invites his “homies” over for some clubbing on the night of his anniversary, he finally gets the dumping he had coming. Unfortunately, he had been planning to propose later in the evening.

As Steph, Emily Liu seems way too smart and attractive for this knucklehead. At least she gets one of the best written scenes of the film with Judith Montgomery, who brings a much appreciated touch of class to the proceedings as an older and wiser woman, who advises Steph while both are stuck in an elevator.

While room #3 showed definite signs of improvement, the fourth is probably the strongest, thanks to the chemistry between Sheetal Sheth and Jordan Belfri, who play a prostitute and her john, respectively. Although their story and fleeting relationship does exactly break new ground, they just click together on-screen. Sheth is particularly effective as an unlikely defender of love as an ideal, and quite alluring in Rhee’s striking closing shot, accompanied by Gene Ammons’s big warm jazz tenor sax playing “Someone to Watch Over Me,” licensed from Prestige Records. Great way to end.

Trouble starts out as a train wreck, but Rhee pulls it together (to an extent) down the stretch. He elicits some good performances and sets some nice scenes in the final two stories, but in its entirety, the film remains too inconsistent and trifling to get excited about. It opens today in New York at the Quad. Scenes from Trouble will also be shown during the second program of the Korean American Film Festival New York, this Saturday (2/28) at 8:00.