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David and Layla

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David (David Moscow) looks for sexy time with Layla (Shiva Rose).
  • David (David Moscow) looks for sexy time with Layla (Shiva Rose).

They say that little boys play with their penises in the womb. When they begin to develop motor skills as infants, they continue to do so, with noticeable fascination. And we all know -- from reading books and watching movies, of course -- that adults masturbate. This is just the way life is, and it's nothing to be ashamed of.

Why, then, am I so ashamed to have watched David and Layla, a movie made by a grown man who seems just to have discovered his pee-pee? It takes a mature humorist to make sophomoric jokes about sex, and for that we have Woody Allen. Therefore, we don't need Jay Jonroy, who wrote, directed and produced David and Layla, one of the most witless cross-cultural romantic comedies I've ever seen -- and it's based on a true story.

The David of the title is an impish, curly-haired, thirtysomething New York Jew who produces a man-on-the-street sex-chat show for public-access television. Along with his cameraman -- a Frenchman who smokes a lot, speaks mangled English and gives bad romantic advice -- David (David Moscow) approaches passersby and asks them questions about their sex lives, like how often they get it, and whether spicy food makes sex better. To that question, David himself answers "yes," because just look at cultures -- Latin America, the Middle East -- that eat spicy foods. They have all kinds of hot juicy sex!

The object of his erection is Layla (Shiva Rose), a Kurdish Muslim living with her uncle in New York. David spies her while she's walking down the street during one of his shoots, and he's immediately enraptured by her exotic beauty. Well, not him actually -- for as we later learn, in one of Jonroy's many plastic pearls of wisdom, "When the cock rises, the brain flies away." (We get to hear it said in both English and Yiddish.)

That's supposed to explain why, a few days later, when Layla passes David again, he races after her, sticks the microphone in her face, and asks, "How often do you have halal sex?" If you laughed at that, please turn the page and go directly to the sex ads.

It's OK to create a character who's pathetically immature, but a scene like that characterizes only the filmmaker, who uses the shorthand of clichés and stupidity throughout his entire movie, even when love finally tames David's creepy libido. Jonroy has musical motifs for his characters: klezmer music for the Jews, harem music for the Kurds. Before meeting Layla, David has a girlfriend, a neurotic Type A Jewess who mounts him in bed for quickie sex and who won't fellate him until they're married. David sees a shrink to battle his "erratic ejaculation dysfunction and condom phobia." (When his girlfriend puts one on him, he gasps, "I can't breathe!")

Oh, and the shrink has a German accent, obviously faux on the actor's part, and meant to be a shrink joke. Well, ha ha.

Fortunately for David, Layla is a bit of a bad girl. Her family thinks she goes to nursing school every day, when in fact she's learning to belly dance. David playfully exploits his knowledge of her secret to get a date. And so on through the usual complications, misunderstanding, religious conflicts, parental fainting spells, emotional outbursts and sappy endings. The movie's few fleeting lessons about the suffering of the Kurds under Saddam are almost offensive in the context of everything else. There's so much sugar here that you might as well not even bother to take the medicine that it helps to do down.

Jonroy never attempts to let his story unfold naturally. He forces every encounter and emotion, and he embraces every hackneyed idea he can find. Perhaps he intends his stereotypes to be loving examples of how silly we are to believe these things about one another. But for that strategy to work, the story needs to evolve into something more original and mature. David and Layla takes four steps backward for every one it takes forward, which pretty much leaves it in the middle of the East River.

Starts Fri., Oct. 12. Regent Square

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