Movie reviews: 'Mysteries of Pittsburgh,' 'Shall We Kiss' and 'Serbis'

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2009 - 5:31 PM

Consider this your warning about 'Serbis.'

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"Serbis"

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THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH

★★ out of four stars

Rating: R for for strong sexuality, nudity and language.

Theater: Lagoon.

In this embalmed adaptation of Michael Chabon's novel, the characters deliver their dialogue as if reciting from the book. Bland Jon Foster emits endless streams of first-person narration as a withdrawn college grad struggling to emerge from the shadow of his domineering father, mob boss Nick Nolte. Foster wants a final summer of aimless irresponsibility, mindlessly clerking in a bookstore

His passionate manager, Mena Suvari, and gorgeous violist Sienna Miller see him as a romantic catch. Peter Sarsgaard hits some engaging notes of off-kilter charisma as the musician's boyfriend, a glib, bottom-rung gangster who is beginning to annoy Dad's mob colleagues. Foster asks Nolte to offer his protection, but the older man decides that this is an opportunity to teach his book-smart son some serious life lessons.

Rawson Thurber (writer/director of the raucous hit "Dodgeball") helms the film with little feel for locale or character. He hits all the obligatory indie-drama notes: introspective hero, family conflict, coming-of-age angst, gender ambiguity (sexually freewheeling Sarsgaard seems fonder of Foster than of Miller). But it's a rote, lifeless performance. At any middling arthouse festival, films like this are four for a dollar.

shall we kiss?

★★ 1/2 out of four stars

Unrated by the MPAA; brief nudity.

Theater: Uptown.

Faultlessly tasteful but a little stale. Emmanuel Mouret wrote, directed and stars in this whimsical story of temptation and consequences. The tidily plotted screenplay opens with a chance meeting that leads to dinner and a romantic overture by a handsome provincial man toward a traveling Parisian businesswoman. She hesitates at his offer of a chaste, no-strings kiss, offering a story about a similar situation that upset the lives of several friends.

Focus shifts to Mouret, playing a wistful math teacher divulging his romantic woes to his married pal, chemist Virginie Ledoyen. Mouret, whose charm falls somewhere between Woody Allen and a lost puppy, seeks Ledoyen's advice about his loss of physical passion. She has altruistic, therapeutic sex with him and the pair soon realize that they were destined for each other. Rather than breaking the bad news to their blameless partners, they arrange for them to meet and fall in love. As the businesswoman narrates the tale, there are detours into several other stories of life-changing chance encounters that take us briefly into new comedic frames.

Like the mathematician he plays, Mouret works out his intersecting tales precisely, and charts the cause and effect of infatuation with care. A little more madness in the mix would be welcome, though. Some of the film's biggest laughs come from glancing details. I don't know if it's funny in France that Mouret and Ledoyen cap off a healthy jog in the park with a couple of cigarettes, but it's pretty amusing here.

SERBIS

★ out of four stars

Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language. In Tagalog with English subtitles.

Theater: Lagoon.

A soap opera set in a seedy Filipino adult movie theater where sexual services are part of the refreshments menu. It's a lively place, if a sordid one. Johns, prostitutes and gay hustlers go about their business in the auditorium and even in the projection booth.

The owner of the theater agonizes about a lawsuit threatened by her no-good ex-husband. A goat wanders in from the street, braying from the stage and setting off a rambunctious chase more entertaining than the dated porno double-feature onscreen.

The film is a sprawling ensemble piece about the owners, and every character in the Pineda seems to be struggling with some form of physical, mental or moral infirmity. Jacklyn Jose plays the embattled matriarch, beaten down by a long life of hardships; Gina Pareño plays her daughter, who appears destined for the same fate.

"Serbis" has a cramped, claustrophobic feel, with the camera rarely venturing outside the theater into the vibrant neighborhood outside. It's rated R, but is eye-openingly explicit; the film's ghastly money shot concerns an infected boil on one character's bottom. You have been advised; proceed accordingly.

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