Friday, October 26, 2001

Pop pursuit neglects to cover its Bass

Movie: On the Line

Posted on Fri, Oct 26, 2001 at 4:00 AM

**1/2
Our Rating: 2.50

The box-office dry run of 'N Sync's Lance Bass and Joey Fatone falls somewhere in the quality chasm between "A Hard Day's Night" and "Spice World." Bass (also one of "On the Line's" executive producers) makes a surprisingly appealing romantic lead as Kevin Gibbons, a Chicago ad man who meets and falls for a sweet young thing (the equally likable Emmanuelle Chriqui) while riding the city's mass-transit system. Too timid to ask for her name and/or phone number, he spends the rest of the movie trying to track her down anew. Meanwhile, his smitten pursuit is picked up as a hot human-interest story by the local tabloid newspaper. (Is this what passed for a scoop in the days before anthrax?)

There's just enough awkwardness about Bass to make him believable as an underdog. Note his mismatched bug eyes, which appear to have been plucked from the heads of two completely unrelated human beings. Thankfully, the film's "musical" aspects are kept secondary: Kevin's best friend, Rod (Fatone), is the vocalist for a small-time bar band. He's a coarse, lumbering, flatulent fella, and Fatone gives the role his comedic all. He may have a healthy career ahead of him as pop's answer to Jack Black.

Strangely, the game-faced novices in the lead roles are dragged down by the character actors brought in to prop them up. Dave Foley barks and sputters as Kevin's disdainful boss, rooting around for an honest laugh he never finds. Jerry Stiller is even worse as (what else?) a crusty senior citizen who works in the mail room of their ad agency.

The movie is implausible and cheap, but who will that disappoint? Like the entire 'N Sync oeuvre, this is an unremarkable story about unremarkable people in love. Blame the broad direction of Eric Bross (most recent credit: the TV movie "The Chippendales Murder") for exacerbating the schizophrenia of the script, which see-saws from genuinely funny lines to banalities straight out of a wine-cooler commercial.

Rivaling DVD for value-added fun, the movie comes complete with its own running game. Try counting the mild but plentiful profanities that have been clumsily dubbed over with even tamer playground curses, apparently in a last-ditch bid to win a kid-friendly "PG" rating. That's going to save some serious time when the flick goes to TV.

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