Given these preconceptions, it is quite a relief to be able to retract the claws (well, halfway) and appreciate a few tremors of emotional intrigue in Body Shots, however buried in cinematic ineptitude they may be. In fact, on the plus side, director Michael Cristofer (Gia, loads of stage work) seems to have a good grip on the impudent script by David McKenna (American History X), mining pathos from a mother lode of brash antics. No mean feat that, especially given the desensitized tone of the piece and the fact that we've seen so much of this before.
Unhampered by imagination and driven solely by libido, eight pretty, mediocre young things cruise through an alternately bleak and jarring glimpse of L.A. nightlife. At first, the four girls and four guys, who move in separate -- but soon enough intermingled -- predatory packs, are almost indistinguishable from one another. In the first act (labeled Foreplay), they come at us fast and furious with their post-ironic takes on all things sexual. "To hose or not to hose?" muses golf-geek Trent (Ron Livingston), not realizing that before the night is through, he may just be out-kinked. "Mustang Sally" blasts from inside The Mint while the feeding frenzy begins, and lines about the power and control of the teeth during fellatio still hang in the air. These are randy, confused souls, and -- although this sort of spectacle is readily available for a cover charge in most bars and clubs on the planet -- their aching quest for fulfillment is supposed to be our entertainment.
Of course, that's the point of Body Shots, so it can't really be faulted for that. It's just a shame that so much of the movie often feels (and looks) like that melodramatic student film you really want to like but simply can't. Uninspired frames of urban mating rituals are broken up by the staccato sexual "interviews" (some of the movie's most ribald moments), with Mark Isham's icy score, a lot of tepid techno, and some eerie time-lapse shots of L.A. serving as grout. Capable, but not surprising or new.
Fortunately, the ensemble cast are all game for the ride. Once act two (Good Sex, Bad Sex) corrals the somewhat nonlinear action into a thudding, neon club, the characters start to reveal their quirks and muddled objectives. Rather, make that objective; they all want the illusion of intimacy sparked by sex. (The opening title card's quote -- "I'll go for a ride on your jelly roll/But I won't give you nothin' from my soul," attributed to Anon. -- spills this bean early.) It's actually pretty impressive to hear Shawn (Brad Rowe) lament, "Sex without love equals violence," only to watch him, mere moments later, pounding perpetually sauced Emma (Sybil Temchen) on a car hood and against a chain-link fence. They want it so badly, but what is "it"? Fleeting bliss? A good cathartic nasty? A temporary reprieve from isolation? Writer McKenna doesn't seem to know, so Cristofer exploits the hollowness of their pursuits.
Throughout the group's self-imposed melee, Rick (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Jane (Amanda Peet), and Trent and Whitney (Emily Procter) seem to get closest to finding that elusive "it," though for quite different reasons. Rick and Jane, sort of the dual moral centers of this universe, keep their appreciation chaste and slightly detached (boring us a bit, but at least suggesting some sort of dignity). Trent and Whitney, however, end up playing a few surprising tricks on one another, to the disappointment of neither. (Again, this is hackneyed stuff, but if you've been locked in a church basement for a few years, you might find it titillating.)
The finest acting (or are they really this vacuous?) comes from Jerry O'Connell (Joe's Apartment) and Tara Reid (Urban Legend), who craftily stage an alleged date rape from two wildly varying perspectives. The haze of alcohol and hormones makes them uncertain of their own motivations, and later when they struggle under the interrogation of their friends, we can feel for them in their confusion (a little). Their conflict (and the polarization it forces upon their friends) is the crux of the movie, and Cristofer is wise to suspend judgment, forcing an unexpected thought process out of his audience.
Body Shots isn't a particularly novel document, nor is it always convincing. The interview sequences are sometimes funny, and it's clear that the actors had a good time with them, but, like a voice-over added late in the game, they are not a substitute for chemistry and crackling scenes. (Besides, even when they're amusing, there's something creepy about prescripted "impromptu" comments.) A couple of scenes play well (the fellatio class and Trent's Big Adventure), but audiences who come to watch this cast party down, way down, may find themselves disappointed by the story's meditation on the definition of "consensual." Still, where Body Shots is most thematically successful is in the gray areas, for as Ivy Compton-Burnett said: "There is more difference within the sexes than between them."