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Photograph by Peter Sorel
WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?: Morgan Freeman can't understand why Radha Mitchell would stoop to having an affair with Greg Kinnear in 'Feast of Love.'


Greg Kinnear wins the 'World's Greatest Cuckold' award in Robert Benton's 'Feast of Love'

By Richard von Busack

ROBERT BENTON'S new film, Feast of Love, set in Portland, Ore., offers very adult entertainment. Harry (Morgan Freeman), a disillusioned philosophy professor, serves as the hub of a wheel of ever-changing partners in a college town. Freeman played God once. In a sense, his Harry re-creates the role: he is the kind of God who sees everything and does nothing. Having found the limits of his philosophy, Harry wonders if maybe the only good thing an old man can do is get out of the young people's way. Greg Kinnear plays his buddy Bradley, the owner of a studenty coffee shop called Jitters. Kinnear has played the underwhelming man before: "a fine collection of negative qualities," he's called here, by a woman who is sleeping with him, even. Kinnear is the nice guy utterly free of mojo, whose desperate grimace of likeability resembles the look of a sick child trying to charm an unfriendly nurse. In Feast of Love, he goes through more heartbreak than usual.

As the film opens, Jenny (Stana Katic), a lesbian baseball player, scoops up Bradley's wife, Kathryn (Selma Blair), in world-record time. Some would count this as Benton's revival of the evil predatory lesbian. Others would feel Blair needed and deserved rescuing from Kinnear's miasmic embrace. His next love affair is with a sultry Realtor, Diana (Radha Mitchell), who can't seem to drop the married man she's been lovelessly shtupping for years. A pair of youthful lovers enters the picture: ex-heroin addict/barista Oscar (Toby Hemingway) and Chloe (Alexa Davolos), who wanders in looking behind the counter. Oscar's dangerous dad (Fred Ward) blights their passionate affair.

Benton emphasizes the physical side of love to pose a question: Is love just the disguise that biology wears? It's hard to say from the evidence here. For instance, what we've seen between Kathryn and Jenny is too rapid and basic to be called love. (Come to think of it, when Freeman was narrating that documentary about the penguins, he confused love and sex there, too.) Rather than crowing over the nude scenes, let us celebrate their purpose. Mitchell uses her vulnerable body to reinforce the seriousness of Diana's plight. If you focus on the sex, you might misunderstand Benton's essentially romantic nature. Feast of Love features a handsome amount of well-wrought romantic-movie dialogue.

In this rough mix of a movie with some shot-in-Mississippi scenes sticking out of the well-picked Oregon locations. The Southern state is Freeman's home; maybe he was disinclined to travel. Feast of Love is a visually flowery film, laden with blossoms and a pair of garden weddings. The crazy-man subplot seems there mostly to keep the film from looking like romantic piffle. It's great to see Ward again, and he really seems to know how to use a knife, unlike so many of our supposedly tough actors. But was he necessary to the story? Freeman provides enough of the weight of mortality; because of him, Feast of Love has gravity to spare.

Movie TimesFEAST OF LOVE (R; 102 min.), directed Robert Benton, written by Allison Burnett, based on the novel by Charles Baxter, photographed by Kramer Morgenthau and starring Greg Kinnear and Morgan Freeman, opens Sept. 28 at selected theaters.

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