FILM IN REVIEW; 'Never Again'
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
R, 97 minutes
Eric Schaeffer's contemporary sex comedy ''Never Again'' poses that age-old question: Can a desperately lonely 54-year-old exterminator who dabbles in jazz piano find happiness with a desperately lonely 54-year-old single mother whom he meets cute in a gay bar? Yes, yes, yes, the movie gushes, despite the evidence before your eyes that these two people have nothing in common except advanced cases of commitment-phobia and a numerical similarity in age.
It's no fault of Jeffrey Tambor, who plays Christopher, the exterminator, and Jill Clayburgh, his sweetie pie, Grace, that this relationship appears ludicrous. Comedy, even farce, has to have some grounding in recognizable human behavior if it's to land. But as conceived by Mr. Schaeffer, Christopher and Grace are little more than collections of quirky traits lifted from a screenwriter's outline and thrown at actors charged with the impossible task of making them jell.
In the movie's early scenes, Grace's first foray into the single life is a disastrous computer date with a midget. Meanwhile, after suffering a bout of impotence with a younger woman, Christopher decides he must be gay and seeks the professional ministrations of a transvestite prostitute to help him segue, as he puts it, into homosexuality. On entering a gay bar Christopher is besieged with lustful glances from young male cuties on all sides; never mind that he is the furthest thing from a hunk.
This is where he first meets Grace, who has accidentally strayed into the place with two friends. Before they finally get their signals straight, if you'll pardon the pun, Christopher assumes Grace is a transvestite and then a lesbian. Once the truth has been sorted out, the two are going at it hot and heavy and falling in love despite having vowed ''never again.''
The movie, like its lovers, is really two films smushed together in the faint hope that sheer incongruity can grind out laughter. One is a tepid, weepy 70's sitcom in which aging, battle-weary New York singles exchange bittersweet war stories. The other is a bizarre sex farce whose nadir is a scene in which Christopher and his foul-mouthed mother pay a surprise visit to the newly venturesome Grace just as she is donning a leather mask and underwear affixed with a dildo.
''Never Again,'' which opens today in New York and Los Angeles, pretends to be sympathetic to middle-aged singles and their sexual frustrations, but the flailing sex scenes between Christopher and Grace make them look foolish and grotesque. Mr. Tambor and Ms. Clayburgh lend what emotional weight they can to the mopier segments, but when it comes to executing farce, the actors and director are clueless. Think of ''Never Again'' as bad Neil Simon with sex toys attached.
''Never Again'' is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for profanity and kinky sexual situations. STEPHEN HOLDEN