GOING ALL THE WAY (R) (105 min.) _ Dan Wakefield's brink-of-sexuality novel finally gets transferred to the silver screen, with admirable results. Chief among those is the unerring detail that director Mark Pennington and production designer Therese Duprez invest in recreating 1954 middle-American drab. The story misses the provocative edge that shocked readers a generation ago; it's now replaced by a sense of naughty nostalgia and quaint amusement.
Jeremy Davies (Spanking the Monkey) is fine and geeky as Sonny Burns, a shy shutterbug who's returning from Korea when the story begins. On a train bound for home he encounters virile Gunner Casselman (Ben Affleck), a big man on their Indiana high school campus who hasn't lost his magnetism. They make an unlikely pair of pals, with each looking to the other for some personality trait missing from their own. Affleck (Chasing Amy) is a seductive screen presence who easily conveys the latent insecurities Gunner can't hide.
Their homecoming brings reunions with friends, lovers and their disparate families; Jill Clayburgh is aptly shrill as Sonny's uptight mom, while Lesley Ann Warren vamps it up as Gunner's sexy mother. These scenes provide Pennington with his best chance to make us compare mores of the Eisenhower era with today's lack of inhibition.
Otherwise, the sexual currents that run through Going All the Way aren't very different from the heat generated today, and perhaps that is Pennington's point. Amy Locane (School Ties) plays Sonny's longtime girlfriend who uses naive sex as a way to hold onto her man, who is developing a crush on a more worldly female (Rose McGowan). Gunner's roundabout way with the ladies gets cramped by a sophisticated art student (Rachel Weisz, a stunning newcomer).
Due to tonight's special screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the opening day for Going All the Way is Saturday at Tampa Theatre. B+
IN THE COMPANY OF MEN (R) (97 min.) _ This low-budget production heralds the arrival of an important new filmmaker, Neil Labute, who has kicked off his career with a stunning love/hate relationship with the audience. In the Company of Men may disgust you, and certainly should make you angry, even as you admire its many laudable qualities.
A synopsis sounds like a misogynist's daydream: Two corporate types travel to an unnamed Midwestern city for a six-week business trip, where they plot to select a woman to romance independently, to the point she falls in love, before they break her heart with the cruel truth. The stakes are even more disgusting when their target happens to be deaf.
Why do they do this? Most of the reasoning is drenched in the vanilla-complexioned venom of Chad, who sees women only as "all meat and gristle and hatred, just simmering." Mostly, Chad concocts this unconscionable game for the most ruthless reason of all: because he can.
The three performances at center stage are flawless, especially Aaron Eckhart as Chad, an unknown actor who won't stay that way for long, and Stacy Edwards, who easily grabs our sympathy with her impersonation of a deaf person and looks of trust and compassion these men don't merit.
Opens today at Beach Theater. A
THE FULL MONTY (R) (96 min.) _ "Going the full monty" is British slang for taking a situation to an extreme, in general, and stripping to a state of total nudity.
Desperate times call for such desperate measures for feisty Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and his mates at the unemployment office. Twenty-five years ago, their hometown of Sheffield was a booming steel town with thousands of jobs. Technological advances and personal crises have tossed these guys on the scrap heap.
Held over at Beach Theater. A
_ STEVE PERSALL