Patrick Breen claims he was inspired to write the screenplay for Just a Kiss after reading a book by evolutionary scientist Stephen Jay Gould, who posited a theory of life as a series of accidents, and said if we could somehow rewind the tape of our lives and play it again, everything would turn out differently each time. Which should serve as a heads-up: What you see in this wild and wacky movie ain't always what you're going to wind up getting.

The plot turns on a group of New York friends being torn apart--or not--by romantic indiscretions. Dag (Ron Eldard) starts it all by being 'unfaithful' to his fiance, Halley (Kyra Sedgwick), when he's tempted to kiss Rebecca (Marley Shelton), a ballerina who dates his best friend, Peter (the aforementioned Patrick Breen, actor and screenwriter). Never mind that angelic-looking Rebecca apparently sleeps with any man who's nice to her, which drives ever-faithful Peter to distraction.

When Halley learns that the kiss between Dag and Rebecca evolved into an even more intimate act, she walks out on him--and she's forced by circumstances to flee into Rebecca's supposedly empty apartment. It is here that she meets Andre (Taye Diggs), a sweet-talking (but frequently constipated) cellist, who has himself walked out on his wife, Colleen (Sarita Choudhury), an airline stewardess who, later on, entices a clueless Peter into being initiated into the Mile High Club--with catastrophic results.

That particular misadventure comes right after Dag finds his own b'te noire in Paula (Marisa Tomei), a nymphomaniacal, dominatrix barmaid at a local bowling alley. Oh yes: Paula has had the horrid hots for the still clueless Peter ever since she first saw him on TV, as the mascot on a peanut butter commercial. But let's forget the plot, shall we? In this movie, the pivotal moments are likely to come around again, and the others really don't matter.

What does matter in Just a Kiss is the refreshingly original style with which it has been put together. Start with Breen's wickedly witty script, then add the lightly done direction of Fisher Stevens and his inspired decision to incorporate a visual technique known as 'rotomation'--which adds animation to live-action footage. Employing brilliant, comic-book colors, the filmmakers let the animation just gurgle up and flow over and into the characters at odd moments. Well, not so odd, for it quickly becomes clear that these injections of unreality make a dramatic point--they're akin to the emotional buzz one feels when one is doing something really, really baaaad. The effect is terrific.

But visual effects alone do not make Just a Kiss the fun, flip and terribly hip bit of cinematic entertainment it is. Rather, it's the deadpan truth of the actors who make every character not only plausible but engaging--even as they indulge in the most bizarre behavior. Each of the actors in this brilliantly cast ensemble piece takes his/her turn trying to ring the gong on the outrageous meter--but there are, nevertheless, two standouts.

As a classic example of a sexual psychopath, Marisa Tomei is so fiercely focused, she's scary--as well as awfully funny. But the most incongruous business comes from veteran actress Zoe Caldwell, who has a relatively small part as Jessica, an aging ballet diva and mother of the beautiful Rebecca. While her daughter lies in a coma (don't ask how or why), Jessica muses on her own sexual escapades, mentioning the names of every well-known male dancer of the last 40 years. She remembers what Fosse did to her at four a.m. on the streets of Paris, and what she was prepared to do to and for Nureyev, if only he'd given her the chance.

Kinky? Oh, yes, in a sophisticated way. Just a Kiss may be a tough sell in the suburban cineplexes, but it deserves to stay around for a while--perhaps as the latest cult classic.

--Shirley Sealy