"When Will I Be Loved" opens with a long scene of its star, Neve Campbell, taking a shower in her million-dollar New York loft. Then the movie -- a term used here more out of habit than accuracy -- jumps to Times Square, where its other star, Frederick Weller, is barking into a cellphone about a production deal he just scored with the hip-hop mogul Damon Dash. We're yanked back and forth between here and there. We realize that Campbell is merely to be looked at and Weller, who has a sleazy virility, is to be heard.
There's rap music in his scenes, and in hers, and a terrible R&B cover of the Everly Brothers' song that gives the movie its title. Weller walks on, and meets a friend with whom he begins to set up a prostitution ring. Or is it a porn ring? Or, geez, is it a mail-order-bride scam?
Most atrocious movies build into their badness, as lacks of talent, ideas, self-confidence, or a total hatred of an audience, are revealed. This one gets it out of the way up front and never looks back, coating viewers in a moral, artistic greasiness that's hard to experience without being a pillow someone with Jheri curls just slept on. "When Will I Be Loved" doesn't try to win a laugh or earn a tear and fails to produce a scintilla of pleasure or pop a kernel of thought.
After we see Campbell have sex with a woman behind a drape and Weller cavort with three women on a rock, it's revealed that the two leads are lovers. He drops by her apartment to suggest that she prostitute herself with an Italian media mogul (Dominic Chianese) for a lot of money. His long speech to her begins "You have major erotic power" and includes the sentence, "I'm looking to lead you down the path of Ovid and Sappho, D.H. Lawrence, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, to say nothing of the whole hip-hop revolution." Because Campbell has nothing better to do than have sex with anybody, or just maybe because she doesn't ever want to hear Weller talk again, she agrees.
The writer and director of "When Will I Be Loved," James Toback, also made "The Pickup Artist," "Two Girls and a Guy," "Black and White," and "Harvard Man." These are movies that an intelligent mind sensitive to Toback's meandering social investigations might find interesting in the way they strip alleged social constructs, such as class and race, and psychological ones, like ego and lust, down to their bare human essentials. Other intelligent, less forgiving people might just see a jerk repeatedly driving his car into the same brick wall.
Toback is a shallow filmmaker and a wobbly intellectual, dangerously out of touch with younger generations and popular culture. He claims to love the rap world yet uses it and its players in the most appalling ways. And predictably, Toback casts himself as a Columbia professor of African studies called Hassan al-Ibrahim ben Rabinowitz, who sees blacks as a gag he can spring on unsuspecting students in an attempt to get white people to "experience this reality." But if Toback really cared one shred about black folks -- or living, breathing, thinking, feeling human beings in general -- he'd ask them to do a lot more than be hood ornaments.
When Will I Be Loved
Written and directed by: James Toback
Starring: Neve Campbell, Frederick Weller, Karen Allen, Barry Primus, Dominic Chianese
At: Copley Place, Harvard Square
Running time: 81 minutes
Rated: R (strong sexuality, nudity, language)