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Duane Incarnate   (released 3/25/2005)
By Ali Imran Zaidi

What happens when you mix a group of pretty talented actors, mostly of TV sitcom and soap opera fame, an independent comedy script set in the big city, and the writing and directing talents of a filmmaker named by Daily Variety in 1997 as one of the "Top Ten Filmmakers to Watch"? Well unfortunately in this case, not too much.

Writer/Director Hal Salwen's yarn goes something like this. Four best girlfriends, perhaps in their early 30's, hang out together, work out together, go to happy hours together. One of them, Wanda (Crystal Bock, All My Children), is a rather homely one, but that doesn't seem to have stopped her from very recently bagging the perfect man, Duane (Peter Hermann, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit). This of course, seems to spark some raging curiosity, raging jealousy, and, well, raging hormones in her three friends, Gwen (Caroleen Feeney), Fran (Kristen Johnston, 3rd Rock from the Sun), and Connie (Cynthia Watros, The Drew Carey Show). Unfortunately, all three of them already have men in their lives, and what pops from this kernel is essentially a series of events that get a little stranger and stranger as the story goes on, with Duane seeming just a little too perfect... It concludes with an arrangement of somewhat amusing high jinks, all spiraling down to a mildly surprising ending.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the storyline itself is lacking, or the characters don't make sense or- actually, that is in fact what I'm saying. If you can explain why this assortment of very different characters came to be such good friends much less even occupy the same space, you might enjoy the memory of this film more than myself. Or if you can explain why said characters seem to spend most of the first hour inexplicably chasing around the Wanda character trying to get answers, and then eventually the studly Duane character for the last half hour, you might be a lot happier as well. And while there is some fun to be had here, there's a lot to forgive, mostly for the vacant dialog. There is scene after scene in which the four leads are present, but so few in which they do anything but speak through one voice - a voice I can only assume is the Salwen's inner female (can it be labeled a "chick-flick" if a man wrote and directed it?). One wonders why there weren't just 3 leads instead of four. Or perhaps 2. It might have been more manageable.

Sure the film consists of several somewhat two-dimensional characters in fairly stereotypical female roles performing fairly stereotypical female acts and talking about fairly stereotypical female things, but there are some occasional redeeming chuckles to be had. I won't steal the film's thunder here - you'll have to find out for yourself. It should be noted, however, that while it may seem the story rather belittles women and the choices they supposedly make, there is the little bit of a surprise it gets you with in the end which defuses the stereotyping. But then that makes you wonder what the point of it all was.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into the film; just because it's making the film festival circuit doesn't mean it has to be breathtaking or poignant. Or even interesting. I will say that it's a much more enjoyable watch than your studio comedy faire - I'd much rather watch an unpredictable independent such as this than the predictable gruel that is something like Legally Blonde, um, 18, for instance. Unless you're into that star power thing.

If you find yourself in the oft-occurring predicament of having to pick between two films - this one and another - well the good news is you are a free citizen; free to make the choice to pick the other one. The bad news is you might miss a few funny moments. But you'll survive.

Ali Imran Zaidi is a filmmaker, writer and web developer - shooting, banging on keyboards, and making web sites in the Orlando area.

Duane Incarnate plays Saturday, April 9 at 4:15pm at Regal Winter Park Village and Tuesday, April 12 at 9:30pm at Regal Winter Park Village.

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