April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
We gave it a D

Anyone who thinks that they hate laugh tracks may reconsider after sitting through Friends & Lovers, a sickeningly coy ”therapeutic” ensemble comedy in which the dead air that lingers after each awful joke makes you pine for the reassuring banality of canned giggles. At Christmas, a dozen characters gather at a friend’s ski villa, where they flirt, fall in and out of bed, and, mostly, come to terms with their prah-blums. The estranged father (David Rasche) makes up with his angry son (George Newbern), the gay wallflower (Danny Nucci) learns to assert his desires, and so on.

This is the sort of movie that finds humor in an exploding microwave oven and ”outrageous” jokes about erect nipples. It’s the sort of movie in which Claudia Schiffer, as a conveniently insecure hottie, has to ask, ”Why am I such a magnet for losers?” The answer is that the writer-director, George Haas, has surrounded her with losers. He offers up a nerd’s fantasy of racy courtship. As Hans, a sexed-up Bavarian skier who tries to get into Claudia’s leggings, Robert Downey Jr. does one of those send-ups of preening male egotism that’s every bit as exhibitionistic as what it’s parodying. D

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