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Bosom Buddies: Lenny (Ryan Merriman) tries to get an eyeful of friendly neighbor Hedy (Gretchen Mol).

Now, Voyeur

A teen plays peeping tom in 'Just Looking'

By Richard von Busack

THE CHARMLESS NOSTALGIA COMEDY Just Looking is the directing debut of Jason Alexander, and it really just looks like something his character George Costanza on Seinfeld would have created. Fake vulnerability--the Costanza touch--overlays Just Looking's grossness.

In 1955, a young boy of 14 named Lenny (Ryan Merriman) spends the summer at his aunt and uncle's place in Queens. The virgin boy's biggest hope for the summer is that he'll get an eyeful of a couple having sex, even if, at the very least, it's his aunt and uncle doing the deed.

Just Looking-- Porky's disguised as a sensitive independent film--isn't softened by the casting of the highly ingratiating Peter Onorati as the uncle Lenny plans to spy upon. Creepy incest is bad enough; the betrayal of this kind man is even more repellent. Onorati's Uncle Phil is a dream version of an uncle, a cocky but good-humored deli owner, eminently satisfied with his lot in life. Unfortunately for Lenny's goal, Phil's wife, Aunt Norma (Ilana Levine), is pregnant, and the doctor has ordered chastity during the third trimester. (Probably the best line in Just Looking is Lenny's supposition for the medical reason: the baby might bite the probing penis.) So the budding voyeur and two adolescent girls and a boy his own age form a neighborhood "sex club" ("we don't do it, we just talk about it") and start spying on another woman. Her name is Hedy, a sweet neighbor lady, nurse and former brassiere model played by Gretchen Mol.

Mol's graciousness makes her part of the film a pleasure. Her soft reactions to a very schmaltzy bit of dialogue delivered by Lenny takes some of the bosh out of the lines. Lenny tells a story of his late father, a shoe salesman who felt there was poetry in his job, just knowing that his customers were going to see the world wearing his shoes. (Unbidden, a bit of Eric Idle popped into my mind, from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life--the scene in which Idle, as a French waiter, tells of how his mother urged him into the restaurant business. She said he could bring a little bit of happiness into the world by serving food; his unseen listener's amused contempt makes Idle mutter, "I admit, it isn't much of a philosophy.") Hedy handles this boy/man Lenny like a child psychologist--she's a dream of a sophisticated older woman in the same way Phil is a dream of an uncle. Nothing is otherworldly about her; nothing is hidden. When Lenny spies on Hedy's bedroom through the louvers of her closet, one remembers the similar scene in Blue Velvet: Lynch's masterpiece had its power because it addressed the mysterious, frightening quality of sex first glimpsed.

Lenny's such a sharp little hustler that it's hard to believe the film's conception of the boy as of a nice, curious young man. As played by Merriman, one of those inhumanly confident child actors, Lenny is such a brash kid, nothing he's going to see will surprise him. He's so ahead of the game you don't care if he wins it.

Just Looking (R; 97 min.) directed by Jason Alexander, written by Marshall Karp, photographed by Fred Schuler and starring Ryan Merriman, Gretchen Mol and Peter Onorati, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the October 26-November 1, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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