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Venus and Mars Reviews

Four young women gather in their quaint German hometown to mourn their high school soccer coach and assess their lives in this strenuously quirky romantic comedy. Marie (Julia Sawalha, of TV's Absolutely Fabulous) and Celeste (Fay Masterson) never left Himmelsgarten ("Heaven's Garden"): Perpetually pregnant, middle-class Marie loves her husband (Frank Behnke) but fears that the spark has gone out of their marriage, while golddigger Celeste looks forward to youthful widowhood. Kay (Daniela Lunkewitz) and Lisa (Julie Bowen) left town young and never looked back. Kay, who has a dead-end job and has sworn off love, returns to her nutty mother, Emily (Lynn Redgrave), whose tarot card readings and star charts are invariably wrong. Globe-trotting photographer Lisa is desperate to meet Mr. Right, so when Emily predicts romance she pursues (some might say stalks) a handsome local hotelier (Manou Lubowski), ignoring the sweet cabbie (Ryan Hurst) who's adored her since grammar school and credible rumors that the object of her affections is gay. Kay, meanwhile, reluctantly loses her heart to dead-broke American drifter Cody Battle (Michael Weatherly, of TV's Dark Angel), who's camping on the outskirts of town until the backpack he accidentally left on a truck is returned. All four put their romantic houses in order in time for the coach's funeral. Shot in English in Germany and featuring an international cast, this oddity was directed by longtime, Los Angeles-based acting coach/theater (and occasional TV) director Harry Mastrogeorge and written by German-based Ben Taylor. Their combined experience notwithstanding, the film is simultaneously nakedly formulaic and oddly clumsy, particularly in terms of character introduction. It takes too long to figure out the extent to which the women are connected (at first it seems they're sisters) and the fact that the characters are all bilingual and the actresses cast against nationality muddles their backgrounds. Where they're supposed to be from matters because Himmelsgarten abuts an American military installation, which means the foreign base kids/local town kids dynamic is part of their shared history. The story's forward momentum is interrupted, not enriched, by frequent awkward stops to explain who was whose best friend, who was the town tramp, who betrayed whom on her wedding day and the like. The twee touches — an aggressive elderly cyclist, a crazy lady who talks to Martians and a pair of silent, red-headed twin girls — are distracting and the performances vary from competent to surprisingly stilted, given that the director teaches acting.