Keep Your Distance (2005)

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Poison pen à trois?
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US / 94 minutes / color / Lunacy Unlimited, Blue & Grey Dir & Scr: Stu Pollard Pr: Christina Varotsis, Stu Pollard Cine: Matthew Irving Cast: Gil Bellows, Jennifer Westfeldt, Kim Raver, Christian Kane, Jamie Harrold, Gary Anthony Williams, Cynthia Martells, Dennis Burkley, Rick Overton, Elizabeth Peña, Stacy Keach, Jenny McShane, Jim Petersmith, Mel Rexroat, Jon Huffman.

A modest yet engaging minor movie that, by its end, somehow seemed to be both more and less than the sum of its parts. I think this ambivalence of mine about it arose because a minor element of the movie comprises a Dan Brownish puzzle whose solution, when finally revealed to us, seems rather a letdown—the clues lead to a particular piece of text whose relevance is, well, a bit tenuous . . . unless I was missing something, which is always possible.

Gil Bellows as David Dailey.

Kim Raver as Susan Dailey.

David Dailey (Bellows) is a highly successful radio host for the (real-life) station 84WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife Susan (Raver) are poster children for the arts, charity and tolerance. David is also near-insufferably smug in this role—for example, he seems to enjoy constantly telling assistant Whit Harrington (Harrold) that he’s a no-hoper—which makes it all the more alarming when one day David receives an anonymous note consisting of no more than the word

LOVE

with the initial letter highlighted. In the envelope there’s also a hotel room key.

Assuming Susan’s the one who sent the note, proposing a spicy night out, David goes to the hotel, a red rose between his teeth and his hopes high, only to discover her in bed with another woman, her lover Lindsay Welles (McShane).

David does not take this well.

Pulled over later in the evening for drunk driving—there’s a neat little cameo by Rexroat as the arresting cop, Officer Baynes—David finds himself in the slammer. The only person he can think of who might come and fish him out is a young woman to whom he somewhat creepily offered minor help earlier in the day, Melody Lynn Carpenter (Westfeldt).

Jennifer Westfeldt as Melody Carpenter.

Melody’s in Louisville because of her job as a pharmaceuticals rep. It’s here, too, that her boyfriend, rich man’s son and wannabe rock star Sean Voight (Kane), is based. Sean put her on the spot by proposing marriage in a grossly public fashion, televising it live onto the big screen at a crowded racetrack, and it was while fleeing from the embarrassment of having said no to him (aside from anything else, her divorce from first husband Scott Cooper hasn’t yet been finalized) that she suffered the accident from which David saved her.

Christian Kane as Sean Voight.

We can see where the romantic strand of the plot is going as clearly as if this were a Hallmark movie. Indeed, Keep Your Distances has as a whole, despite a dollop or three of bad language and a dash of sex and nudity, something of the feel of a TV movie. In keeping with this, at first Melody seems to be just another wholesomely cute romantic heroine from the Hallmark Channel production line; it takes us a while to realize that Westfeldt is an actress of greater heft than that (as you’d expect from the co-writer and co-star of Kissing Jessica Stein, 2001, and much else), and is bringing something more to the part.

Melody has a few shadows of her own, as she habitually explains to Dr. Christine Havice (Martells)—who’s either her best bud or her therapist, I wasn’t quite sure.

Cynthia Martells as Dr. Christine Havice.

David, meanwhile, has started to become a nicer guy. He seems genuinely affected when the proposed Senate run of his friend Bob Lentz (Petersmith) is scuppered by false rumors of child pornography, a vitriolic campaign of innuendo that ends with Lentz’s suicide. His attitude softens toward Whit to the point that he starts encouraging rather than denigrating the younger man.

Jamie Harrold as Whit Harrington.

Jim Petersmith as Bob Lentz.

His attitude starts ameliorating, too, toward Susan and her adultery. Could the way to solve their marriage problems be, as Susan suggests, to start including Lindsay as part of their shared sexual relationship?

But the notes keep coming:

GRACE

MIGHT

RESPECT

HOPE

Melody appoints herself to be David’s detective in trying to unearth what the words, and those highlighted letters, could be trying to convey. The friendship between them deepens . . .

Stacy Keach as Brooks Voight.

There’s plenty more plot where all this came from. Sean is stalking Melody, and putting bugs on her so he can listen in on her conversations. Also, Sean’s father Brooks Voight (Keach) has hired a PI, Michaela Ruiz (Peña), to keep tabs on Melody. It’s no wonder Melody has her paranoid moments.

Elizabeth Peña as Michaela Ruiz.

There’s some office politics going on at 84WHAS, too, in course of which station manager Kevin Sullivan (Williams) makes it plain he endures rather than likes his arrogant star host—another revelation that prods David in the direction of mending his ways. Then there’s the gig that Sean arranges . . .

But enough.

Gary Anthony Williams as Kevin Sullivan.

As I’ve indicated, the resolutions of two of the plot strands are a mite unsatisfactory: the explanation of the puzzle of the notes is an anticlimax while the romantic conclusion is predictable. There are other aspects of the movie’s plotting that I could query, but such criticism would I think be misleading, because I came away from Keep Your Distance with a sense of having genuinely enjoyed the time I spent in its company. The acting’s in general very good, with Westfeldt and Kane outstanding (although in his instance the Hallmark Channel impression persists), and the soundtrack contains some great songs; when Sean and his band performed the song “Right in Front of You” (co-written by director Stu Pollard) on stage in its entirety, rather than rolling my eyes I found myself bopping along with it. And it’s actually worth sitting through the closing credits because of the several additional songs there.

Jennifer Westfeldt as Melody Carpenter.

Whit Harrington (Jamie Harrold) films his boss at play.

Christian Kane as Sean Voights, vexed by circumstances.

It’s worth sitting through the closing credits for another reason. As they scroll by, (very) occasional letters are highlighted in red; if you stick it out to the bitter end you’ll discover those letters spell out the message THANK YOU FOR WATCHING. Or, at least, that’s what I assume they’re meant to spell out. In my own copy of the movie, despite repeated playing of the relevant segment of the credits, all I could get was THANK YOU FOR WATCHIG.

Calling all proofreaders . . .

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