Watching "Whipped", writer/director/producer Peter M. Cohen's long-delayed feature debut, I had an eerie sense of déja vu. I could not help but be reminded of another writer/director/producer's feature debut, "In the Company of Men" from Neil Labute (whose "Nurse Betty" opens next weekend). For those that recall, Neil Labute's 1997 film was memorable for its brutal depiction of a twisted 'dating game' orchestrated by two men whose attitudes had become poisoned by both their shared misogyny and their corporate culture-induced alienation. And though this latest film seems to share some common ground with "In the Company of Men", "Whipped" is hardly memorable, let alone watchable, with a script full of juvenile and smart-aleck comments on dating that are hardly humorous or enlightening.
The story revolves around four twenty-something men who meet for breakfast every Sunday to discuss their latest sexual conquests. Wall Street-type Brad (Brian Van Holt, who is slated to appear in John Woo's "Windtalkers") and wannabe-screenwriter Zeke (Zorie Barber) are professional 'scammers', who compulsively lie and cheat to bed women. For example, Brad has learned that the majority of women have a friend named 'Jen', a fact that he uses to feign familiarity ("You look just like a friend of my sister, Jen!" which is usually followed by "Oh, you're Jen's brother!"). On the other hand, the socially inept Jonathan (Jonathan Abrahams) spends a little too much time by himself, having 'affairs' with 'women' named 'Keri' and 'Nivea'. There's also Eric (Judah Domke), the only one in the group who is married, and considers the Sunday meetings a much-needed 'break' from matrimonial bliss.
Complications set in when Brad, Zeke, and Jonathan end up falling for the same woman, Mia (Amanda Peet of "The Whole Nine Yards" and "Isn't She Great"). Somehow, Mia is the ideal woman for these three caballeros, with much in common with their very diverse interests. Though Mia seems to be comfortable with dating all three men at the same time, rivalries quickly emerge between the three suitors, putting their friendship in jeopardy as they try to 'scam' each other. Meanwhile, with his three friends lusting after the same woman, Eric begins feeling pangs of jealousy as he ends up being ignored more and more. So who's scamming who?
The main problem with "Whipped" is that it is completely devoid of emotion. In addition to the main characters being completely unlikable, they essentially remain static throughout the entire film. At least in "In the Company of Men", one of the protagonists actually began having doubts about the twisted game he was playing, which not only made him more sympathetic, but added some emotional weight and genuine tension to the proceedings.
With "Whipped", we see the same bunch of guys, full of macho bravado spewing out one misogynistic sex-related metaphor after another, none of which are particularly funny or insightful. And when such banal lines are delivered by mostly amateur actors who don't seem to have the word 'emote' in their vocabularies, the result is 85 minutes of sheer boredom. Thus, it falls on Peet, the only recognizable actor, to carry the film, which she doesn't, since she isn't given much to work with in terms of character either.
And if the lackluster dialogue and acting weren't enough, there are a couple of gross-out humor bits thrown in for good measure, I guess to appeal to those people who thought "American Pie" was actually funny. And while gross-out gags within a context can be hilarious, the bits found within "Whipped" are both awkwardly inserted and obvious in intent, particularly a gag that literally involves some tired toilet humor.
It's not surprising that "Whipped" sat in 'distribution limbo' for so long after it was completed last year-- "Whipped" is what should have been done to this film. Late movie critic Gene Siskel once suggested an acid test for distinguishing good from bad films-- is the movie in question more interesting than a documentary about the same actors eating lunch together? In the case of "Whipped", the actors probably would have had more interesting things to say over lunch than what the script had to offer them.