With Full Frontal, Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh is clearly trying to recall both the sexual/domestic provocations of his breakthrough debut, sex lies & videotape, and the gonzo experimentation of 1996's nicely oddball Schizopolis. The result is neither provocative enough nor oddball enough ' hell, not even interesting enough.
Full Frontal is an arty, protracted tease. The elements for something good are all present: a talented ensemble, a promising script by first-timer Coleman Hough, and a seemingly earnest desire to leave the bullshit at the door (Soderbergh issued a set of rules to his cast detailing the absence of set staples like craft services, hair and makeup, and attitude). But the director and his players never capitalize on the project's potential.
Full Frontal begins with the opening credits of a fictional film called Rendez-Vous starring movie stars Calvin (Blair Underwood), playing an actor, and Francesca (Julia Roberts), playing a journalist profiling the actor. The film frequently returns to this movie-within-the-movie; its scenes are distinct in that they're shot on 35mm. The rest of the film is split between a stable of characters all associated in some way with the fictional production: the screenwriter (David Hyde Pierce), a sad sack in a limp marriage; his wife (Catherine Keener), a studio exec who's having an affair with the "talent"; the producer (David Duchovny), whose birthday party will bring together most of the principals at film's end; and so on.
The disparate characters tend to bump into each other, blips on the same social radar. They're all part of a certain L.A., moneyed, movie sensibility that's terrifically tedious to anyone not part of the club ' or to anyone who already caught its much funnier, much nastier lampooning in The Player. Individually, most of the actors do fine work. Pierce and Keener are by far the most compelling of the lot, and their story arc actually contains...well, an arc. Roberts is bland both as the princessy movie star and as the princessy movie star mugging in a pretend movie. (Deep, huh? So many layers.)
There's a smattering of wickedly funny bits. As a bad actor portraying Hitler in a bad play called The Sound and the Fuehrer, Nicky Katt steals the movie by checking his pager and muttering "Fucking Goebbels." Still, there isn't enough humor ' or even enough weirdness ' to buoy the film. Full Frontal fails because it takes itself so seriously, and because it is itself so seriously dull. Soderbergh's straining to give us a wink ' come on, guys, this is fun ' but it really just feels like some awful eye twitch, a spasm of yawning self-indulgence in an otherwise captivating career.