-By Daniel Eagan

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Treading into Don Roos territory, only without his bite or malice, The Oh in Ohio would like to be seen as a risky, subversive comedy about sexual dysfunction in Middle America. Closer in spirit to the lame Hollywood sex comedies of a generation ago, the film wastes a talented cast in a series of increasingly pointless skits about orgasms.

That's what the "Oh" in the title refers to, or more specifically to housewife and businesswoman Priscilla Chase's (Parker Posey) inability to achieve one. Married for ten years to schlubby high-school biology teacher Jack Chase (Paul Rudd), Priscilla claims that she's never even seen her genitalia, much less masturbated or enjoyed any other form of sexual pleasure. After consulting with a colleague (Keith David) who is doubling as a high-school coach and counselor ("I'm here to hear"), Jack gives up on his marriage, starts an affair with lissome student Kristen Bartlett (Mischa Barton), and moves into an apartment in the Manly Arms.

Priscilla's sexual abstinence has led her to a vice-presidency in a public-relations firm that tries to attract foreign businesses to Cleveland. When a group-therapy vagina pep talk (led by Liza Minnelli in a shawl embroidered with the word "Masturbation") fails to cure her frigidity, Priscilla turns to an adult novelty store staffed by an unbilled Heather Graham. After trying a vibrator "starter kit," Priscilla becomes an orgasm addict, even wearing a vibrating cell-phone during an important business meeting. She quickly moves on to one-night stands, all unsatisfying. It's not until she has a date with Wayne (Danny DeVito), who installs backyard pools, that Priscilla begins to experience happiness.

The sight of Posey, Minnelli and Graham fondling sexual aids and chattering about orgasms is meant to reduce you to helpless laughter, but it will more likely leave you wondering how many bad choices it takes to destroy a career. Posey offers a full panoply of grimaces, shrieks and tics in lieu of a real performance. Rudd retreats into his beard and musty wardrobe as his part shrinks away. The reliable David and a surprisingly low-key DeVito come off fairly well, while Barton proves again that her beauty is impervious to any role.

First-time director Billy Kent, a veteran of commercials and MTV parody spots, deserves the brunt of the blame for a film rife with missed opportunities. Chalk up the slipshod timing, sitcom lighting and punchless gags to inexperience, but that doesn't excuse Ohio's inane plotting, one-dimensional characters and sniggering tone. "Oh" also stands for zero.

-Daniel Eagan

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