Film Review: 30 Beats

A heat wave draws a group of New Yorkers into a ring of seduction and desire in this shoddy exercise marked by posturing and pretention.

That 30 Beats (like the upcoming 360) is loosely inspired by La Ronde does Arthur Schnitzler's classic no favors. Following a similar pattern of linked sexual encounters, Alexis Lloyd moves the show to New York in the grips of a heat wave. The tropical inversion is one of the few all-too-credible features of a film marked by a collection of unattractive people, witless dialogue, and situations more smarmy than erotic. After viewing this film, you want to take a shower. It also suggests that all that New Yorkers have to do on a summer day is stalk and hump. Yes, it's purportedly a pared-down exploration of sexual impulses—but whereas Schnitzler's original felt highly stylized, 30 Beats, by playing sweaty and real, veers into the ridiculous.

We're in trouble from the start when Julie (Condola Rashad), a virgin, arrives at the loft of Adam (Justin Kirk, a fine mid-career actor wasted here) and all but twists his arm into becoming her first sex partner. Adam is (justifiably) puzzled and discomfited by the request: She's so young, the sister of his ex, why him? Why now? The duo’s pretentious posturing plays like an undergrad exercise in scene writing. Kirk, for his part, mainly conveys quiet desperation over how to get his arms around a role that makes no sense.

True to the template of La Ronde, the narrative next picks up with Adam—who has somehow become hexed by this girl—as he seeks the help of psychic Jennifer Tilly, speaking in a sandpaper alto reminiscent of Darth Vader. Tilly gets it on with a young stud who, in turn, is in love with his alluring, mysterious neighbor played by Paz de la Huerta. The mere sight of de la Huerta (bra size 36D) on screen is a sex movie in itself. Surprising, then, to hear her tell her admirer, “I can't make love normally,” displaying a nasty scar presumably from heart surgery. The cure for what ails her lies in a visit to her chiropractor, where she strips down to lacy lingerie and the doc employs techniques to align her chakras not approved by the AMA.

Lloyd aims to explore the way “the city acts like a catalyst in sexual relationships.” How that dynamic works remains unclear. To his credit, Lloyd's camera laps up the hip grunge of neighborhoods like Chelsea, the Village and points south, even winking at the stroller-centric Upper West Side, not known for its unbridled afternoons. But for reasons best known to the filmmaker, the female characters sound either drugged out or developmentally arrested, and speak with a Eurotrash accent.

And Lloyd casts adrift such superb actors as Thomas Sadoski in the role of a speechwriter who regularly visits a high-end call girl and dominatrix played by the aptly named Ingeborga Dapkunaite. (No doubt he's a Republican.) In this vignette we're treated to what we hope is Sadoski's body double trussed up like a turkey on a spit. His tormentor says, “This was our last time, I'm retiring.” Says Sadoski, without irony: “You can't do this. People count on you. I count on you.” She also wants to have a baby. Why is no one is calling the cops?

The dominatrix—who's also writing a book we can't wait to read—then hits on a young Asian-American hunk in a health club. The dude turns out to be linked to the first character in the series and so—finally!—the circle is closed. In the press notes, Lloyd states that filming the sexual act “has no mystery for anybody. Everything, simulated or not, has been filmed by the best directors.” Consequently, 30 Beats is all Sexy Time with no money shots, which in an exercise such as this feels a bit of a cheat.