James Toback directed two critically acclaimed films in the 1970s, "The Gambler" and "Fingers," but he went on to squander that early promise with films that amounted to exercises in self-indulgence and voyeurism. From "The Pick-Up Artist" and "Two Girls and a Guy," both of which starred Robert Downey Jr., to "Black and White," in which Toback pretended to explore contemporary race relations, his films often seem to be less about compelling intellectual or artistic ideas than about what turns him on sexually.
"When Will I Be Loved" is no exception. As Toback pretentiously proclaims in the production notes for the film, he's tried to create a "post-feminist" turnabout of "The Pick-Up Artist," in which a smart, rich, sexually voracious young woman (Neve Campbell) trolls the posh precincts of Manhattan for erotic encounters and, implicitly, a sense of her own worth. "When Will I Be Loved" consists mostly of various tawdry trysts, between Campbell's character, Vera, and a degenerate boyfriend played by Fred Weller (doing his best Owen Wilson imitation), as well as some other minor players. There's no point to the movie, except somehow to prove that women can be as morally bankrupt and manipulative as men; Vera is devoid of anything substantial enough to earn viewers' interest when the plot spins into the completely outlandish.
"When Will I Be Loved" is one of those pictures that beg to be described as brave and unflinching, but like so much of Toback's recent work, it's trivial and narcissistic and ultimately rather sordid.
When Will I Be Loved (81 minutes, at the Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue) is rated R for strong sexuality, nudity and profanity.