Love, generic style

Love & Sex offers cineplex-sized sitcom

?Opens Sept.8

There's no mystery why the principals participated in the low-budget love story Love & Sex. Playing the protagonist, former model Famke Janssen wants to show she can carry a feature film by herself. Cast opposite her, Swingers' Jon Favreau wants to establish some cred for himself as a leading man. Filmmaker Valerie Breiman, a former actress whose prior directing credits are Bikini Squad and Going Overboard (also known as Babes Ahoy), gets to play auteur by directing her on script. But you have to wonder why they'd go to the effort to make Love & Sex when no one has any original points to make or fresh images to convey. It's even harder figuring out why anyone would buy tickets for it, when you can see essentially the same content on NBC's "Must See TV" comedies. Love & Sex talks dirty in covering modern relationships, but is much less "Sex and the City" than "Suddenly Susan."

We first see Famke Janssen's Kate Welles rushing through an office lobby. In her casual dress and artful disarray, she looks like a supermodel running late for a shoot, so naturally, she's the film's idea of what a writer looks like en route to her job at a fashion magazine. The talented Ann Magnuson appears in two scenes as an editor (she played an identical role on the sitcom "Anything But Love") and chews out Kate for writing an article about blowjobs. You know how those fash mags hate running stories on sex.

Digging into her own romantic history for a story about love, Kate rummages through her former boyfriends in flashback. One of film's best lines is when she says of a playground beau, "He walked like my favorite actor, Billy Jack." She loses her virginity to a French teacher, and romances a fellow who turns out to be married (Noah Emmerich), but her most serious relationship is with Adam (Favreau), a painter with a penchant for ugly, "provocative work." After they make eye contact at one of his exhibits, he comes on to her so strong you'd think he'd merely get a face full of pepper spray.

But it seems she goes for the obnoxious, presumptuous types, and soon they're an item. Tensions develop, as he has trouble dealing with the fact that she's had 13 prior lovers, him just two. But they move in together, get kittens and he does a videotaped striptease to "Play That Funky Music (White Boy)." They reach a comfort level with lowered defenses — she passes gas in bed, he weeps in movies — but after the passions cool and they've dealt with an unplanned pregnancy, they break up and have to deal with each other as friendly exes.

Kate shows a sporadic fascination with dark thoughts (Nosferatu is her favorite film), and if The Tao of Steve depicted the sexploits of quasi-Buddhist fat guy, Love & Sex follows a death-obsessed tall chick, with her big feet and Adam's prominent head being fodder for endearments. Mostly the film offers predictable, Hollywoodized "meet cutes" and dialogue full of thin imagery, like sandwiches repeatedly used as metaphors for relationships.

Predictably, big confrontations take place in public places, frequently movie theaters. When Adam and Kate encounter each other with dates, they "competitively" engage in making out with their new paramours. In the flashback with Emmerich's character, post-coital snuggling is interrupted with the arrival of his wife, whom Kate didn't know existed. Wearing only her negligee, Kate storms out of the house and down the street, which nicely shows off Janssen's physique, but begs some serious questions, like what'll she do when she needs her car keys or bus fare?

Janssen first gained attention as lusty femme fatale Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye but since then has played more reserved, willowy roles — as psychic Jean Grey, she's the only one of the X-Men without a comic book code name. Here she comes across as sort of an elongated Sandra Bullock, with a performance that's neither unappealing nor star-making. She does get to wear some killer outfits and colorful underwear, which merely makes one wonder how a would-be "maverick" romantic movie titled Love & Sex can feature no nudity.

Favreau's shticky, stammering performance proves genuinely irritating, especially after Kate gets serious with a boy-toy movie star (Josh Hopkins). Trying to woo her back, he sends a bongo-playing midget to her place of work and launches an airplane trailing a banner. Pushy without being charismatic, Favreau makes you wonder if Swingers was worth it. True, it gave us director Doug Liman, but also foisted upon us Favreau, Vince Vaughn and annoying slang like, "You're money!"

Most of the characters have glamorous or exotic careers like comedian or music video director, but you get no real sense of what the professions are really like. "Saturday Night Live's" Cheri Oteri has the insubstantial role of Kate's best friend, while David Schwimmer puts in a cameo that only reminds you that the oft-derided "Friends" has actually much better jokes than Love & Sex.

Having perhaps the least promising title of the year, Breiman's script offers vapid observations such as "Love is ecstasy and agony, freedom and imprisonment, belonging and loneliness." Lacking the insights of Annie Hall or even When Harry Met Sally, Love & Sex floats no new ideas, misguided or otherwise. It only suggests that if you hang in there, one day you'll realize who your true love is, and then the two of you can hug and spin around in slow motion.