Judge Gordon Sullivan thought this would be a movie about the competitive world of professional tic-tac-toe.
Hugs. Kisses. Score.
X's & O's feels like a total throwback to the early Nineties. It seems like that was the era of independent relationship comedies that dealt with twentysomething angst and the pressures and expectations of growing older. Even a main character's interest in slam poetry feels like a throwback. Although the form feels like it's almost twenty years old, it hasn't benefited from the extra time, as X's & O's can't quite land all its jokes or figure out exactly what how it feels about growing up.
In the film, biologist Simon (Clayne Crawford, A Walk to Remember) is in love with Jane (Sara Wright, The House Bunny), a blond goddess who's completely above him and treats him like her pet. Meanwhile, his lab partner Trese (Judy Marte, Raising Victor Vargas) is in love with Simon. He decides to go out with Trese to get into Jane's head. Instead of solving all of his problems, Simon is stuck between the possibility of being with Jane and his burgeoning feelings for Trese.
I'm not sure how the movie does it, but X's & O's moves along at a smooth clip, offering just enough charm and humor to keep things moving towards the inevitable climax. I say I'm not sure because X's & O's is far greater than the sum of its parts, which alone are rather mediocre. Here are just a few of the film's sins:
• Obnoxious characters. Simon and Trese are pretty okay, if a bit stereotypical. Pretty much everybody else is really annoying. Lorenzo the playboy is a non-character who's only characterization is that he's a total jerk until redeeming himself in the film's final moments. Trese's roommate Vivian is a barely there alcoholic whose only function is to glower at Simon for stealing Trese from her. Simon's friend Jimmy is an Asian who spends half the film pretending to be a "gangsta" and the other half trying to be every good Asian stereotype. Jane, the vapid blond, might be the most well drawn of the characters, but her very nature makes her insufferable despite the strength of the characterization.
• Stereotypical plot. Simon's the "good guy" who acts like a masochist so he can hang around a gorgeous woman who will only use him. Trese is the more "everyday" woman he consequently overlooks, until they start to hang out. He gets stuck between them, makes a series of poor decisions, and gets rescued by a deus ex machina in the film's final moments as he realizes his love.
• Slam poetry. I have nothing against slam poetry when the emphasis is on the poetry, and poets devote time to using the tools of figurative language to make some point. I do not appreciate it when slam poetry is used a venue for ranting or whining about relationships. The latter is definitely the case here. I think it's cool that Trese is a scientist into writing poetry, but the "poetry" that her character performs barely qualifies. More importantly, it would have to be knockout quality to not completely stop the film's forward momentum. In the case of the few pieces she performs, that's exactly what happens.
Together, these should be enough to sink the cinematic ship, but surprisingly, X's & O's remains a surprisingly watchable film. The credit has to go to the actors and dialogue. No matter how repugnant the characters can be (and Jane and Jimmy can get really bad), the actors give them a warmth and humanity that is compelling. The dialogue too has a lived-in, natural quality that helps as well.
The film is presented on a pretty standard DVD. The transfer preserves the slightly gritty, catch-as-catch-can low budget feel of the cinematography, and the 5.1 audio keeps dialogue solidly audible. Extras are aimed at fans, with a gag reel and deleted scenes for those who didn't get enough of the film. For behind-the-scenes info, we're given an audio commentary with the director and editor. There's also a bonus short film by the director of X's & O's as well as numerous trailers.
X's & O's isn't a bad film, but even decent acting can't turn the by-the-numbers plot and obnoxious characters into a great comedy. It's probably worth a rental for the struggling twentysomething (or those who remember that time fondly), but otherwise most audiences probably won't connect with the flick.
X's & O's is not guilty, but only barely.
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