-By Daniel Eagan

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Can two shallow yuppies find love after sex? That's the none-too-compelling question behind Better Than Sex, a coy and pretentious comedy that promises more than it delivers.

Josh (David Wenham), a wildlife photographer for National Geographic, meets Cin (Susie Porter), a former dress designer, at a party. When they share a cab home, Josh reveals that he is leaving for London in three days. Faced with the possibility of an emotionally unencumbered affair, Cin invites him up to her apartment. Over the next three days, they make love, sleep, argue, reconcile, and face unexpected choices about the future.

Potential obstacles to a lasting relationship include Sam (Catherine McClements), a television producer and Cin's jealous friend, who arrives to flirt openly but futilely with Josh. Then there's the photo of a pretty woman in Josh's wallet, a memento of a lost but still cherished love. Josh's looming departure weighs heavily on Cin, while her jealousy gives Josh pause. In other words, there's nothing much keeping these two apart, even though writer-director Jonathan Teplitzky goes through awkward narrative contortions to suggest that something is.

The film boasts several sexual couplings, all shot in a tastefully R-rated manner. Josh and Cin aren't much more adventurous than oral sex and some athletic positionings, and their sex predictably leads to physical bliss followed by intellectual doubts. It turns out that what's better than sex is that old favorite, love, and Josh and Cin are destined to tumble before too long--even without having a serious conversation about anything.

Clocking in at under 90 minutes, Better Than Sex still seems swathed in padding. There's much pointless ado over a wedding dress that Cin is designing for a friend, and over Josh's toilet habits. A leering female cab driver (who apparently has the only taxi in Sydney) shows up repeatedly to offer Josh romantic advice. Three treacly ballads dress up long, aimless montages. Cin and Josh are too besotted with each other to go out to eat, but do manage to find a cable channel that's devoted solely to animal sex.

Addressing the camera, the characters examine their motives and actions in separate, after-the-fact interviews. Confusingly, both leads have voice-over narrations as well. Not a believer in restraint, director Teplitzky also throws in a chorus of ten other unnamed characters who comment on sex and passion. These tricks waste time that could have been spent on stronger plotting and characterizations.

Wenham, looking something like a shorter, more grizzled David Duchovny, exhibits good spirits throughout, even when falling victim to premature ejaculation. Porter, sporting a pixie haircut and freckles, seems game as well. But their enthusiasm can't compensate for a paper-thin script that is by turns sniggering, fatuous and emotionally fraudulent. If an audience exists for a story in which two self-absorbed hedonists deliver interminable post-mortems about simulated sex, Better Than Sex is sure to corner it.

--Daniel Eagan

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