Although it clocks in at a trim 85 minutes, debuting filmmaker Julie Davis's I Love You, Don't Touch Me! seems longer than the rough cut of Titanic. It's not a result of weak storytelling, static visuals or inept editing. Brought in for an astounding $64,000, the independently made romantic comedy is coherently structured, and it's easier on the eyes and ears than its marginal budget would indicate. Moreover, the question posed by the screenplay-is there a point at which innocence becomes a liability?-is an interesting one.

What makes I Love You, Don't Touch Me! an ordeal to sit through is Davis' relentless focus on a protagonist who is so off-putting, one would as soon see her struck by lightning at the movie's end as achieve her goal of romantic closure with the man of her dreams. The character in question is Katie (Maria Schaffel), a 25-year-old, aspiring singer-songwriter from Los Angeles whose unattached state is the bane of her existence. Sexually frustrated, but determined to hang onto her virginity until she meets her Mr. Right, Katie sees herself as a defender of the highest romantic ideals in an age of shallowness and promiscuity.

But the Katie the viewer sees is a repressed, selfish, hostile young woman whose self-absorption has rendered her oblivious to the insensitive way she treats others. When her best friend Elizabeth (Nancy Sorel) gets engaged, Katie is too busy feeling sorry for herself to offer congratulations, and her contempt for her sexually active girlfriends is corrosive. Even worse is Katie's treatment of Ben (Mitchell Whitfield), her constant companion. Though she knows that he's in love with her, Katie's not physically attracted to Ben and sees nothing wrong in rubbing his nose in it.

Katie's comeuppance appears in the form of Richard (Michael Harris), an older, successful composer whom she meets cute when she rams her car into the back of his Ferrari. Too inexperienced to recognize that Richard has no interest in a committed relationship, Katie sleeps with him, then proceeds to make all the wrong moves. Furious and heartbroken when she finds him with someone else, Katie turns to Ben, finally realizing that he's the man for her. 'Who'd have thought,' muses Katie in the film's final moments, 'I'd wind up with a slightly overweight man with a receding hairline?' How's that for true romance?

Clearly, Katie is meant to be a lovable neurotic of the Woody Allen school whose naive ideas and disastrous choices evoke rueful, comic shocks of recognition. But Davis has miscalculated the effect of Katie's values and behavior. Despite Schaffel's assured performance and impressive singing voice-the musical-theatre actress, whose credits include Broadway's Les Miserables, makes her film debut here-the character is too self-centered and unkind to generate empathy. And Davis and Schaffel have made Katie's lack of interest in Ben sufficiently convincing that her last-minute recognition of him as 'the one' is near-impossible to swallow.

Whitfield (My Cousin Vinny, the upcoming Best Men) as Ben, Harris (Suture) as the composer boyfriend, and Meredith Scott Lynn as Janet, a friend of Katie's who temporarily hooks up with Ben, provide okay support; Jane Ford's original songs sound as if they've been written by Katie; and cinematographer Mark Putnam gives the L.A. locations an appropriately glossy look. I Love You, Don't Touch Me! shows Davis to be a filmmaker of some potential, if she can learn to get a handle on her characters.

--Bob Satuloff