BARTENDERS do it for nothing and psychiatrists charge by the hour. Talk isn't always cheap. And decisions aren't always easy, especially in Los Angeles, the setting for "Choose Me," a puzzling, esoteric comedy.
It's fun with film noir, heavy on the saxophone and cigarettes. The plot's a merry-go- round of lovers caught up in a contrived bedroom comedy, the conjunction of "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex" and a Harlequin romance.
Lesley Ann Warren, who's forever playing some exploited trollop in TV movies, brings a just-right hard edge to her character, the owner of Eve's Place, a cocktail lounge with a neon sign on the shady side of Sunset and Vine. Men are attracted like fruit flies, and Eve's exhausted with love.
She puts her faith in the advice of a radio psychologist named Dr. Love, played by the worn, intense Genevieve Bujold. The sexually frustrated doctor gives brilliant but clinical advice on the heart, precisely because she has no real experience to cloud her thinking.
The women become roommates, and Love, who "can only do it over the phone," as she tells her own psychiatrist (over the phone), starts answering Eve's private line. Her sympathetic ear and Eve's sensuality make a man's perfect woman, which is just the sort of trite stuff you'd expect to learn from your average movie. But "Choose Me" goes on to make fun of facile solutions, including its own psychobabble.
Keith Carradine ties it all together as Mickey, a man who loves women, all of them. With his hair slicked back and a cocky grin, he looks like William Hurt in "Body Heat," sleazy but not unattractive. Mickey, a mental patient with an impossibly tragic background. talks in short bursts of flowery prose. He's the sort of guy you find volunteering for the Royal Air Force in old World War II movies; he only kisses women he would marry, including both roommates.
"Choose Me," directed and written by Alan Rudolph, is a stylish film that reveals more and more upon reflection. Hookers lounge on Rudolph's stagey streets, splashed with streams of artificial light, like sets in a little theater. But when it's done and the last sax wails, we're left to make our own big picture from Rudolph's many small truths.
CHOOSE ME -- At the Circle MacArthur.