There’s a certain kind of smug loser you run into at parties who advertises the fact that he’s annoying, even revels in it, yet believes — or at least hopes — that the sheer openness with which he’s annoying you somehow passes as charm. (Actually, it only renders him more annoying than he knows.) Myles Berkowitz, the writer, director, and star of 20 Dates, is exactly this sort of frighteningly clueless nudge. The concept of his film, which he insists on delineating in each and every scene, is this: With barely enough cash to fill the average movie’s catering budget, Berkowitz decided to cobble together a feature by going on 20 real, live dates and filming them. No story, no stars, no romantic happy-ending phoniness. Just a true, no-frills portrait of love in the ’90s.
It sounds like an enticing idea, except that Berkowitz, a 30ish Angeleno who looks like a blandly unctuous Kevin Kline, doesn’t really follow through on it. His ”spontaneous” dates are conceived and executed as precocious camera-ready stunts. Almost all of the women know they’re being filmed, and the encounters never produce a semblance of casually overheard courtship-ritual chitchat, since the subject of the conversation is inevitably…Myles Berkowitz’s revolutionary attempt to make a movie! Raging ego aside (and that’s a big aside), the penny-ante hucksterism of his I’m-going-on-dates-to-get-famous-making-a- movie-about-dates approach is cloying and opportunistic in the extreme. The women show occasional flickers of temperament, but, as presented, they’re little more than conduits for Berkowitz’s ambition. The one voice in the entire witless enterprise I enjoyed was that of Berkowitz’s producer, Elie Samaha, a thick-accented schlockmeister thug who is heard, off camera, threatening the filmmaker (at one point with violence) unless he can come up with what people actually want to see: hot stars! Tawdry sex! Tia Carrere! (Samaha, it turns out, is married to Carrere.) There’s more honesty in his vulgarian contempt than there is in Berkowitz’s cutesy ”anti-Hollywood” insularity. C-