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Trust the Man

(2006) ** 1/2 Pg-13
103 min. Fox Searchlight Pictures. Director: Bart Freundlich. Cast: Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eva Mendes.

Bart Freundlich's new romantic comedy Trust the Man operates on the premise that men aren't to be trusted with the responsibility of relationships (and women, alas, are their victims). In hindsight, the title is also airly prophetic, since Freundlich proves a team player: men are redeemable after all.

I chuckled along with Trust the Man, but by the end, I felt empty and unconvinced that I'd spent 103 minutes with genuine personalities. The Woody Allen-lite plot—set in New York City, of course—follows two troubled couples to turning points in their relationships. Freundlich's wife Julianne Moore plays successful actress and mother Rebecca, who's in a cozy but vulnerable marriage with frustrated writer Tom (David Duchovny). Rebecca's brother Tobey (Billy Crudup) has been dating Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for seven years, and she's got the itch to marry and procreate, but he's still "like a teenager with a checking account."

Freundlich leans toward the precious and the silly, but a few of the relationship diagnoses have a nice bite to them. In one doomed marital encounter, Tom asks Rebecca to narrate porn for him as he masturbates, and the awkward pillow talk is just absurd enough to ring true. Lost boys Tom and Tobey amount to caricatures, but the more thoughtful Tom sketches an effective self-portrait when he notes, "We're missing the greatest moments of our lives because all we can talk about is sports and blintzes."

The relationships buckle and threaten to break entirely, leading up to a not terribly suspenseful strained-farce finale that squanders with horrid cutesy-ness the goodwill the able cast has won. Moore and the glowing Gyllenhaal are typically solid, but its Duchovny and Crudup who surprise, the former with his old easy charm back in place and the latter showing comic acumen too often kept in reserve. Adding value are supporting players like James Le Gros, Ellen Barkin, and Eva Mendes, and cameos by Garry Shandling and Bob Balaban.

Ultimately, the pleasant-enough but underwhelming Trust the Man isn't so much aimless as aim-deficient, enough to give the whole enterprise a whiff of desperation. Small outbreaks of slapstick waft in seemingly from other movies, and a sex-addiction subplot proves so ill-fitting that it's never clear whether or not we're meant to believe the character is truly a sex addict (my guess: no). Enough of these broad-side-of-the-barn misses give viewers trust issues with Trust the Man.

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