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With "20 Dates," the writer-director-star goes a' courting, for Hollywood, that is.

Frequent-Dater Myles

Myles Berkowitz woos a lot of women in his kinda-sorta documentary "20 Dates." The cleverly conceived movie chronicles the filmmaker's hunt for a girlfriend. Besides being an ingenious way to meet girls, the movie is also a blatant bid for stardom, something of a celluloid calling card. OK, maybe not stardom, but at least Flavor of the Month status in Hollywood. "20 Dates" also offers viewers a short course on the compromises required to make a movie, any movie, even a small little pseudo-documentary about dating.

Much of the movie feels like a big-screen version of "Candid Camera" meets the "Love Connection." Except here, we get to see the "dates" instead of just hear about them. And in one deliciously wrought scene we watch as one of Berkowitz's "dates" does a slow burn as she realizes halfway through the meal that she's being filmed.

In an offbeat way, "20 Dates" serves as an intriguing companion piece to "The Truman Show" and "EDtv." Once again, we're faced with the current psychosocial phenomenon of ordinary people offering themselves up for voyeuristic consumption. Even though two of his 20 dates sued to keep Berkowitz from including footage of them in his movie, most agreed to appear, even those who seemed genuinely hurt or angered by his deceptive dating practices. Forget those 15 minutes of fame. Everybody now wants a movie deal or a talk show or, at the very least, a home page on the World Wide Web.

But before you get too intrigued by Berkowitz's movie, a word of caution about his approach: The movie offers just a few too many wacky, well-formed characters and encounters to be true. Berkowitz tried to call his movie a documentary at first, but when too many people started criticizing the many clever contrivances, he changed his tune. Now, Berkowitz calls "20 Dates" a "real world-inspired soap opera."

A lively jumble of real life, staged scenes and interviews, "20 Dates" is the cinematic equivalent of eavesdropping. Half the fun comes from the guilty knowledge that you shouldn't really be privy to the scene at all.

Then there's the presence of his money man, one Elie Samaha. One of the few folks who demand not to be seen on camera, his loudmouthed, profane presence dominates the movie. He wants Berkowitz to inject as much sex and violence into the movie as possible. Or at the very least, why can't one of Berkowitz's "dates" be a real star, like, hmmm, Tia Carrere?

Lucky for us, Berkowitz "sneaks" a tape recorder into his many meetings with Samaha. Brash, demanding and threatening, Samaha, though frighteningly "real," seems more like a stereotype. When he bellows at Berkowitz, "If this [expletive] movie doesn't make five times my investment, you're going to [expletive] wish you'd never been born," the words may sound like overwrought dialogue, but the vehemence sure rings true.

Speaking of ringing true, while 36-year-old Berkowitz would have us believe that he's just a lonely schlemiel, he knows he's not. He knows he's funny and he knows he's no loser in the looks department, either. Sure, his circle of intimates critique his social skills in acerbic talking-head shots. Even his camera crew laughs at Berkowitz's latest humiliation. Eventually you just want to smack him and tell him, "Enough already."

Although the movie and Berkowitz are often laugh-out-loud hilarious, the nagging feeling that the whole ordeal has been cleverly crafted and edited for our viewing pleasure never goes

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