Friday December 11, 1998

     "Red Meat" takes its title from a group of guys who meet one Sunday a month to "work out, eat red meat and talk about girls." When the film opens the group has dwindled to two, a callous, womanizing attorney, Stefan (John Slattery), and a nerdy would-be screenwriter, Chris (Stephen Mailer), who has failed to score with women ever since his divorce nearly a year earlier.
     In their different ways both are jerks that we've met too often in life and a zillion times on the screen, and writer-director Allison Burnett offers no fresh insights into either of his characters.
     Much of the film is set in a restaurant where Chris encounters his friend Victor (James Frain), who suddenly disappeared some time ago. Once Victor sits down with Chris and Stefan they regale him with their interminable, dreary encounters with women, which are shown in flashback. Then Victor tells them what's been going on with him, involving a radically different experience with a dying woman (Lara Flynn Boyle).
     "Red Meat" is the kind of overly theatrical first film that threatens to talk itself to death with dialogue that is frequently too literary, and above all, betrays its maker's fervent conviction that he has something profound to express about the human condition and is, by golly, going to hammer it home no matter what. Yet Burnett offers no fresh take on the horrors of the contemporary mating game, and invoking a sense of mortality to throw into perspective all the petty, rotten ways in which men can treat women is somehow less staggering in its impact than obviously intended.
     What Burnett, whose passion and commitment to his material is commendable, needs to do is to put storytelling first and sending a message second. He also might consider that a lot of blunt locker room talk may be just that and not all that revealing or significant or funny just because it's crudely realistic. His cast consistently acts as if it were under a proscenium instead of in front of a camera, and the moments when "Red Meat" seems anything less than artificial are all but nonexistent.


Red Meat, 1998. Unrated. A Peninsula Films release of a Treehouse Films presentation. Writer-director Allison Burnett. Producers Oliver Eberle, Marco Weber. Cinematographer Charlie Lieberman. Editor Sloane Klevin. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Lara Flynn Boyle as Ruth. James Frain as Victor. Jennifer Grey as Candace. Traci Lind as Connie the Waitress. Stephen Mailer as Chris. John Slattery as Stefan.