Lesbian Falls For Straight Guy (Oh, That Again?) - Michael Medved

* 1/2, Rated R for incessant (and often irrelevant) harsh language, graphic sex talk and one scene of bloody violence at a hockey game.

What happens when the creative team behind the gross-out slacker comedy Mallrats suddenly turns its adolescent attentions to an overwrought melodrama about sexual identity and the nature of true love? If, for some reason, you're intrigued by this odd question,than CA provides the awkward answer. It's a contrived, consummately clumsy confection that takes itself much too seriously and embarrasses some likeable young actors far better suited to whimsical comedy. Ben Affleck and Jason Lee (both survivors of Mallrats) play boyhood chums from Red Bank, NJ, who collaborate on a series of hip, popular comic books. Joey Lauren Adams (another denizen of Mallrats) is their fellow graphic artist who instantly attracts the handsome, goateed Affleck with her sexy, flirtatious ways. The only problem is, she's an aggressively promiscuous lesbian with no interest in men. Still, they develop a friendship. Mr. Affleck's comic book partner (Lee) opposes this relationship as a threat to his friend's creative genius- though several characters comment that this apparent jealousy may reflect Lee's own unresolved homosexual longings. Though Adams seems to enjoy her adventurous gay lifestyle and ridicules the notion that she secretly needs a man, the script flatters every fatuous male fantasy by showing her instantaneous "conversion" to straight sexuality after one passionate night with our sulky hero. Their only remaining problem involves an inevitable confrontation with some dark secrets from her past. Adams flashes winning smiles and gives her all to this impossible role, but her hysterical intensity only emphasizes the insipidity of the script. Both male leads come across as despicable dorks (and Gen X sterotypes), while the level of romantic charm and insight ("Fucking isn't always about penetration, Banky!") makes Howard Stern look like Lord Byron. Even those hoping for glimpses of hot, kinky passion will be disappointed. The movie features raunchy talk about the mechanics of coupling, but not even the briefest (gay or straight) sex scene. The supposed comic highlight comes when Adams and Lee tediously compare notes on the painful injuries each endured while engaged in sex with women. Writer-director Kevin Smith previously created the mildly amusing festival favorite Clerks before he made Mallrats, so CA represents the completion of his NJ Trilogy- recalling the fragrance and elegance of the Garden State's least appetizing oil refineries. Smith also plays an intriguing cameo role as Silent Bob, one of two mysterious stoners who have turned up in all three films. The line at the end of the credits announcing that these two will return in Smith's next film feels, after CA, more like a threat than a promise.