2½ stars (out of four)
This little scamp of a film's actual title isn't "----" but it's the closest the Tribune will ever get to spelling it out. The proud history and perpetual, monosyllabic allure of what Scottish comic Billy Connolly calls "a grand word" draws a variety of musings in director Steve Anderson's modest documentary. TV writers (David "Deadwood" Milch, a man who never met a "..." he didn't like), humorists (Bill Maher) and porn stars (Tera Patrick) all weigh in solidly on the "yea" side. A few sticks-in-the-mud are heard from, notably Pat Boone ("I think 'censorship' is a good word"), but in general, Anderson and company champion the little exclamation that could.
The film works best when widening its focus to include the Federal Communications Commission's often baffling and hypocritical stances regarding what's OK to say, or show, on TV and radio, and what isn't. In one political season, Janet Jackson's special guest star on the Super Bowl can cause a censorious ruckus and a huge uptick in the FCC fine threats. In another season, "Saving Private Ryan" aired on most ABC affiliates; those that held it were concerned about f-word issues, not the extreme gore.
The word of Anderson's title has been known to wear out its creative welcome in all mediums. In other words it's like any other viable, time-tested verbal flourish: more effective in moderation. While it's fun to hear Maher and others crank off on its merits, you may ultimately side with Janeane Garofalo, who emerges as the film's centrist. She says she's disinclined to use the phrase "making love" as well as its counterpart. Maybe Pat Boone has the answers after all (I always suspected that!) On camera he reveals that whenever he needs to curse, he deploys his own invention. The word is: boone!
No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for language). Running time: 1:30. Opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema.