The 'Naked' truth? It's not to be found

Times Staff Writer

"Suddenly Naked" is a minor, problematic Canadian romantic comedy whose bright spot is young actor Joe Cobden, who appeared briefly in last year's forgettable thriller "Abandon." Cobden's Patrick McKeating combines a youthful spirit with a mature wit and intellect. The 20-year-old also is a highly gifted writer who leads a pleasant, bohemian existence in Toronto, where his novel is being read via e-mail by celebrity author Jackie York (Wendy Crewson), impressed enough with his talent to want to meet him, not realizing he's half her age.

A piece of work, Jackie is a gaunt, elegant woman of total self-absorption and boundless self-importance. She's plotting revenge against her last lover, who conned her out of the rights to her best novel, with which he plans to make his film directorial debut. She'll skewer him in her next novel; in the meantime, she's indulging in one-night stands with legions of male admirers, whom she rates mercilessly on a chart in her computer.

Once over the shock of Patrick's youth, she is amused at his ability to parry with her and then realizes she's attracted. It's understandable that she would end up in the sack with him, but why he would be interested, let alone fall in love with her, is harder to accept.

Although screenwriter Elyse Friedman can write dialogue with bite, she's otherwise murky in regard to character motivation and in her own point of view.

"Suddenly Naked" may have been made in the first year of the 21st century, but it's hard to understand why this woman who carries on like a Joan -- or Jackie -- Collins character feels that it would be detrimental to her image to be known to be romantically involved with a much younger man. But then, her pride has been so injured by that former lover that she has persuaded an old friend, literary agent Lionel Heathcote (Peter Coyote, a brave, whimsical portrayal in a thankless part), to pretend to be carrying on a romance.

Not helping matters is director Anne Wheeler's decision to play against the romantic comedy froth that her film unmistakably is. She treats it with gritty realism, exemplified by David Frazee's sooty cinematography, which has the unfortunate effect of underlining the contrivance in Friedman's script and the harsh-to-the-point-of-cruel lighting of Crewson throughout much of the film.

Crewson is a game, experienced actress but hasn't sufficient star charisma to lift "Suddenly Naked" out of the doldrums. "Suddenly Naked" looks ripe for a sudden vanishing.


'Suddenly Naked'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Strong language; some sex, nudity, adult themes

Wendy Crewson...Jackie York

Peter Coyote...Lionel Heathcote

Joe Cobden...Patrick McKeating

A Pantheon Entertainment release of a Show & Tell production in association with Rampage Productions. Director Anne Wheeler. Producer Gavin Wilding. Executive producers Wheeler, Ralph Zimmerman. Screenplay by Elyse Friedman. Cinematographer David Frazee. Editor Elyse Friedman. Music Chris Ainscough. Costumes Toni Rutter. Production designer Cathy Roberson. Art director Cheryl Marlin. Set decorator Nancy Pownall.

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