The cruelest moment in the intolerably smug relationship comedy ``Trust the Man" is very brief and probably accidental. A montage of Manhattan locales kicks off the movie, and one shot features the Cinema Village marquee, which announces that ``Funny Ha Ha," ``The Best of Youth," and ``Walk on Water" are playing. Those are movies from a recent yesteryear (ah, 2005), and if they don't mean anything to you, you're much better off making their acquaintance than spending a minute with this new film.
That's a shame , because any movie with Julianne Moore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, David Duchovny, and Billy Crudup is one you want to say something nice about. Alas, ``Trust the Man," written and directed by Moore's husband, Bart Freundlich , leaves you feeling stingy with compliments. This is a movie that's built around characters the audience is bound to find more insufferable than anyone does in the movie itself.
Moore and Duchovny play Rebecca and Tom. They've been together for years. She's a well-known actress; he's just her husband. By his own estimation, he used to be somebody, but he recently left his lofty perch in advertising and is beginning to go stir-crazy as a stay-at-home dad. Tom's best friend is Rebecca's younger brother Tobey (Crudup), who lives with Elaine (Gyllenhaal).
Tom and Tobey are screw-ups. Tom starts contriving play dates with the flirty divorced mom whose kid is in his son's class. When Elaine wants Tobey to drive her somewhere, he tells her he can't. He says he needs to move the car out of its current parking space and into another one somewhere else on the block. (She asks him while he's watching ``Sports-Center." Shame on her!)
These are the kind of men who'll ogle a woman together in a restaurant while their partners are sitting across the table. And ``Trust the Man" is the sort of movie that wants you to find that a little bit charming. But how does one love such morons?
Eventually, both men's relationships hit the rocks -- or, rather, each man crashes his relationship into a tree. Watching them try to redeem themselves is embarrassing -- for the flailing men, the pitiful women who consider taking them back, and us. Freundlich probably didn't set out to chart new territory in the inexhaustible conversation between women and men. But the movie hasn't any insight or perception or imagination to enrich it. There are no epiphanies or surprises, just tired scenarios with American movies' favorite character trend: hapless men, unmoored and crude. (``Honey, it looks like I finally digested that corn!" Tobey announces.)
As Freundlich's presumable stand-in, Duchovny is unappetizing. Crudup is worse because he plays the part without a trace of believable humanity. I don't need to like a character in a movie, but I do need not to want to kill him. Together, these two seem to be playing sketches of the filmmaker's guilty id. With less notable casting, ``Trust the Man" could have been an episode of ``The King of Queens" or ``Yes Dear": mediocre marital fairy tales in which wives forgive their disappointing Neanderthal husbands.
In one of the single worst scenes in any movie this year, Elaine brings her new German lover (Glenn Fitzgerald) to Tom and Rebecca's for dinner, where Tobey is ready to snipe. The German, humorless and clad in tight black, is steadily mocked for seeming like the Dieter character in those ``Saturday Night Live" ``Sprockets" sketches. Later , in an adjoining bedroom, Elaine and Tobey argue about the German's penis size. Obviously, the walls are thin enough for everybody else to overhear and almost spit out their wine.
Is this farce, drama, satire? Who knows? Whatever Freundlich is up to, none of it is very convincing. This is the third time he's worked with his wife, but their previous movies, ``The Myth of Fingerprints" and ``World Traveler," are a lot less exasperating. In ``Trust the Man" the filmmaker appears to be both airing the laundry of his marriage to a famous actress and looking for validation as a talent in his own right. Instead, we're left thinking Moore has married a hack.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.