The slight romantic comedy "Fish Without a Bicycle" — its cryptic title coming from the feminist phrase used in a U2 lyric, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" — written by and starring Jenna Mattison, feels like an acting exercise stretched to feature length. Underdeveloped characters and a thin premise about an aspiring L.A. actress who's lost her way undermine this would-be treatise on feminine independence, despite Mattison's ability to hold the screen with her smile and blazing red hair, and some solid turns from its supporting cast.

Mattison plays the extremely needy Jules, who in short order falls for a jerky theater director (Bryan Callen), dumps her bland fireman beau (Brad Rowe) and follows the questionable advice of her caustic, man-eating best friend (Jennifer Blanc), all while looking right past her funny and perceptive (not to mention patient) acting partner (Brian A. Green). Callen is dead-on as the cocksure stage auteur, but the idea that Jules would lose any sleep over the guy, let alone allow the relationship to unravel her life, defies credibility.

Green, of "Beverly Hills, 90210" fame (the Austin has been whittled to an A), makes his feature directing debut and handles the actors well, but the film is visually undistinguished. The fact that the audience is always 20 minutes ahead of the protagonist overshadows some of Mattison's clever, if overly articulate, dialogue, and ultimately makes for a long sit.

'Fish Without a Bicycle'

MPAA rating: R for some strong sexual content and language.

Times guidelines: Some fairly explicit descriptions of sex acts.

Jenna Mattison...Jules Jennifer Blanc...Vicki

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. Exclusively at Loews Cineplex at the Beverly Center, L.A., (310) 652-7760.