By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
While there’s a certain amount of entertainment value in seeing Iron Man’s girlfriend give the Hulk’s alter ego a slow-grind lap dance in black lingerie, that’s not nearly enough to make up for the rest of this bizarrely earnest pity party about three recovering sex addicts struggling to stay “sober.”
The movie’s biggest problem is its “is anyone buying this?” premise, which should have been played either with more grimly gritty realism or more edgy black humor. Instead, director Stuart Blumberg, who co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Winston, presents this multi-character mess as a lowest-common-denominator “Valentine’s Day”/”New Year’s Eve”-style conglomeration of soap-opera romance, phony family melodrama and sitcom-bad fat guy jokes.
Mark Ruffalo (“The Avengers”) is the charming, thoughtful but vaguely haunted Adam, who has a respectable career as a green-packaging professional, a luxurious New York apartment and a five-year sobriety chip. No, he wasn’t a self-destructive drunk, a raging blow monkey or a hopeless heroin fiend. Poor Adam liked sex too much. His solution: regular 12-step meetings, daily bedside prayers and a life of such stringent celibacy that he has televisions removed from his hotel rooms so he can’t glimpse any tempting images. Also, we’re told he hasn’t masturbated for half a decade. Now that’s willpower.
Incredibly, we’re supposed to take this Taliban-metrosexual hybrid seriously, and have sympathy for his struggle not to be seduced by a randy ready-for-love 10K runner (Gwyneth Paltrow) who says she is “a very sexual person, and I’ll need to express that.”
When agonized Adam eventually confesses that his “disease” involved juggling multiple girlfriends, lots of one-night stands and prostitutes, it’s hard not to think that paying for it was the only troubling aspect of what otherwise sounds like every man’s fantasy. Likewise, what’s intended to be regarded as his tragically shameful backsliding hookup with a daddy-issues beauty from his bad old days (Emily Meade) is actually this muttonheaded movie’s hottest-by-far moment, even if it does end in an episode of conveniently instructive psychosis.
Mike (Tim Robbins) is Adam’s aphorism-spouting sponsor and the preachily self-righteous leader of one-day-at-a-time meetings for those who think they need the help of a higher power to keep it in their pants. Incredibly, a line about how hard it is for them to resist taking “visual drinks on the street” simply by looking at passersby is not played for laughs.
Besides giving his placidly understanding wife (Joely Richardson) hepatitis C back in his player past, Mike also is an ex-drunk estranged from his drug addict son Danny (Patrick Fugit). When Danny moves back in and helps dad build a backyard koi pond, you can just bet the two of them are going to end up having a playful old-times’-sake wrestling match in the dirt.
What’s supposed to serve as comic relief comes in the form of chubby pervert Neil (hammy Jack Black wannabe Josh Gad), a doctor arrested for rubbing his crotch against women on subways. Fired after being caught shooting upskirt video with a shoe-cam in the movie’s most clumsily contrived scene, overeating Neil forms a howlingly unlikely friendship with tattooed punk chick Dede (Alecia Moore, aka singer Pink). See the fat guy run. See the fat guy bicycle. See the fat guy dance.
Although director Blumberg co-wrote 2010’s excellent “The Kids Are All Right” (which also starred Ruffalo), this alternately unfunny and insultingly sappy ordeal is so bad that even a stiff injection of sarcastic irony probably wouldn’t have saved it. Still, that approach would have been preferable to one that takes seriously the notions that making bad choices is a disease, that total celibacy is a rational lifestyle alternative and that burning porn in a metal barrel by the river is a life-affirming bonding experience.