According to press materials, "Charlie's Party" was conceived when writer-director Catherine Cahn decided to throw herself a 30th birthday party by swapping mates with a group of her friends. They declined, but Cahn pursued the idea with this modest comedy starring an ensemble of young actors vaguely recognizable from roles on such TV shows as "Law & Order" and "Sex and the City."
Cahn strenuously tries to duplicate the frank ribaldry of that last pop-cultural bellwether, as well as the post-collegiate zeitgeist of "The Big Chill," not to mention any number of sexual roundelays and comedies of manners, from "sex, lies and videotape" to "Kissing Jessica Stein."
The list could go on forever, which is why "Charlie's Party" feels so derivative and overeager to both shock and please. Filmed mostly at a suburban house in Connecticut, the enterprise possesses the amateur air of a bunch of kids taking over mom's house for the weekend to put on a show. The result is an awkward but essentially good-natured film about early middle age that hits its comic mark only fitfully. Cahn probably should have reconsidered not just the party, but the movie, too.
-- Ann Hornaday
Charlie's Party Unrated, 80 minutes Contains profanity, brief nudity and sexual situations. At Landmark's E Street Cinema, the Avalon and Cinema Arts.