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MOVIE REVIEW : A Watchable, Likable ‘Calendar Girl’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The three bonded buddies in “Calendar Girl” (citywide)--zooming off to Hollywood in a sky-blue Galaxy 500 convertible in search of a date with their dreamgirl, Marilyn Monroe--are like most movie bachelor trios. They’re star-struck youngsters from the provinces, here small-town Nevada, loose in the big city: here, L.A., with its palms, Grauman’s (now Mann’s) Chinese Theater and Beverly Hills hideaways.

And the movie they’re in--a generally likable, shallow comedy written by Paul W. Shapiro--is like most other Kids-in-the-City movie fantasies. It’s not top-notch or unusual--but it’s got a crush on pop nostalgia itself, which is one of the likable things about it.

Likable, too, is the central trio. One is brash and daring (Jason Priestley as Roy), one sensitive (Gabriel Olds as historian Ned), one a clown (Jerry O’Connell as smiley Scott). They’re all steeped in show-biz culture: meeting at 9 at a Howdy Doody look-alike contest, jointly falling in love with Marilyn--and her famous nude calendar--at 12. When they decide to try to consummate their fantasy, it’s the summer after high school--in 1962, the year before J.F.K.'s assassination and the Beatles, a period often described as America’s “End of Innocence.”

Priestley, Olds and McConnell interact well, connect with one another. Bickering, wisecracking and “dis-ing” each other, they’re still tight as Crazy Glue. The movie pretends to be about their fantasy pursuit, but it’s more precisely about how three teen-age guys love each other at the moment they’re about to split up: a sunny, dippy epic of a Last Bachelor Fling.

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As such, it’s a cute picture; if you were looking for the ideal word to describe “Calendar Girl,” it might be watchable . The director, John Whitesell, did a season of the “Roseanne” show--and he handles the characters and jokes with the relaxed spaciousness that usually works best in TV. He keeps his distance and amiability and doesn’t shove the movie in your face.

That doesn’t mean the Monroe track-down makes much sense--especially when the threesome crashes at the Hollywood hillside digs of swinger Uncle Harvey, an amazingly accommodating host played by Joe Pantoliano. Or when they moon around M.M.'s bungalow in their convertible. Or even when they try to elude the film’s top clowns: played, in a dreamlike stroke of perfect casting, by Kurt Fuller and Stephen Tobolowsky.

“Calendar Girl” is another interact-with-the-icon fantasy, like “Garbo Talks,” or “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (the Beatles). And that’s one of the things that’s a little off about it: the suggestion that the dream isn’t much different than the truth, that real-life Marilyn was exactly as she seemed in the movies.

There’s another level of irony, perhaps unconscious. Priestley is a current TV heartthrob (on “Beverly Hills, 90210"), who resembles the other great ‘50s movie romantic icon James Dean--and is dressed and hairstyled to resemble him even more.

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In a way, this movie is about a real-life small-town Dean--or perhaps Dean split in three--going after Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps that’s why we can’t expect much more from “Calendar Girl” (MPAA-rated: PG-13) than likability, watchability, ultra-cute credits sequences. If a movie love affair consists of shoving two long-dead celluloid dreams together, the match-up may give you a tickle, but it usually won’t burn.

‘Calendar Girl’

Jason Priestley: Roy Darpinian

Gabriel Olds: Ned Bleuer

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Jerry O’Connell: Scott Foreman

Joe Pantoliano: Harvey Darpinian

A Columbia Pictures presentation of a Parkway production. Director John Whitesell. Producers Debbie Robins, Gary Marsh. Executive producers Penny Marshall, Elliot Abbott. Screenplay by Paul W. Shapiro. Cinematographer Tom Piestley. Editor Wendy Greene Bricmont. Music Hans Zimmer. Production design Bill Groom. Art director Sarah Knowles. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG-13 (for nudity, drug content and language).

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