At the heart of writer-director Stephen Belber's "Match," a three-character drama based on his 2004 play, is a magisterial portrait of flamboyant loneliness by Patrick Stewart.
A veteran dance teacher at Juilliard who politely declines social invitations but seems ready to burst with foppish energy inside his modest apartment, Stewart's Tobi is, in the film's first act, a character you're ready to follow anywhere, as exhausting as he is.
When a smiling stranger named Lisa (Carla Gugino) arrives with her stern-looking husband, Mike (Matthew Lillard), to interview Tobi about his life as a celebrated dancer and choreographer, there's even the impulse to forgive director Belber's barely concealed staginess as long as the talk sings and Stewart's enjoyable preening keeps up.
But too quickly "Match" rips the mask off to reveal its simple and sour moral melodrama about libertine artists and life choices, and suddenly the whole thing's hoofing and the sweat stains show.
Though the thin mystery at the center becomes a narrative albatross, and Lillard and Gugino seem hamstrung by the schematic nature of their characters, Stewart's melancholic electricity manages to maintain its appeal. His Tobi is a man coming to grips with the fact that his life, not just his art, is a solo act. It's just the way "Match" narrowly forces this realization that prevents the film from doing right by the autumnal fire that Stewart regularly stokes with wit and grace.
MPAA rating: R for language, sexual dialogue, drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills