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'Never Again'

One viewing too many for silly 'Never Again'

Saturday, July 27, 2002

By Stephen Hunter, The Washington Post

It's dispiriting to see performers as beloved as Jill Clayburgh and Jeffrey Tambor lost in the leaden romantic comedy "Never Again."

"Never Again"

RATED: R, for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, and for language

STARRING: Jill Clayburgh, Jeffrey Tambor

DIRECTOR: Eric Schaeffer

WEB SITE: www.neveragainmovie.com


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Who doesn't adore Clayburgh? She was so fabulous in her '70s heyday in such winners as "An Unmarried Woman" and "Starting Over," a world-class actress who projected intelligence, decency, integrity and grit. And Tambor, a yeoman who's been around for years: How nice when a guy like that gets big billing. It makes you feel the system sometimes works.

It may, but the movie just doesn't. A meet-cute whimsy set among divorced fiftysomethings in New York, "Never Again" blunders on toward oblivion, excruciatingly unfunny and pitifully unromantic. But the two do meet cute -- sickeningly cute.

The setting is a gay bar. Tambor, who plays a jazz musician/exterminator (also meant to be cute), has had sexual difficulties of late, plus a disturbing dream about gay sex. He wonders if he's gay, and he goes to the bar to find out if any sparks will fly. His come-ons to the boys in the band are too embarrassing, almost, to be gotten through by us poor fools in the audience. Ignored, he's reduced to standing at the bar.

Meanwhile, Clayburgh, a divorcee who hasn't had sex in a decade, is recovering from her first attempt at online blind dating, in which the guy turned out to be a midget (not funny). So she and two friends have retreated in a frenzy to the nearest bar ... which happens to be that same gay bar.

At the bar, her Grace and his Christopher make eye contact and begin to chat, under the delusion that each is something else. She thinks he's gay, he thinks she's a man. Are we laughing yet? Can hot sex be far behind? (Thank God the masquerade doesn't continue into the bedroom, although the camera does enter that sanctum; if I want to see 55-year-old bodies, I know where every mirror in the building is.)

Soon they've begun an affair based on the idea of sexual expression without commitment. The "never again" of the title refers to their mutual ideas on marriage, and both have friends to egg them on in their resolve.

Whenever the director runs out of ideas, he parks the movie in a sex shop, where Clayburgh is made to invest in all sorts of dirty toys that she doesn't quite get. One of them has a buckle and when she has it buckled on, she can't get it unbuckled when Tambor and his ancient mother come to visit. The director thinks that's funny. Jill Clayburgh? The star of "An Unmarried Woman"? I think that's a disgrace.

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