By paring his latest film down to its basic elements -- one set and three actors -- writer-director James Toback ("Fingers," "The Pick-Up Artist") may have been aiming for a kind of emotional directness, a way to strip his characters down to their bare psyches. But what he ends up with is one phenomenal performance, two sporadically believable ones and a movie with all the cinematic flair of a filmed play.
The two "girls" are Carla (Heather Graham) and Lou (Natasha Gregson Wagner, looking more and more like her mother Natalie Wood), who meet while waiting outside their boyfriends' building. The chatty, hyperactive Lou and the cool, distant Carla strike up a conversation and in no time realize they're waiting for the same guy, Blake (Robert Downey Jr.).
After breaking into his SoHo loft (a prime example of minimalist luxury), they impatiently wait for Blake's appearance, all the while heatedly dissecting his behavior and comparing notes. So when Blake, a marginally successful actor, finally arrives on the scene, he's both more and less than expected.
Passionately belting out an aria, Blake makes a grand entrance, but it's not for Carla and Lou, who have hidden themselves. It's for Blake's most important audience: himself.
Downey (Chaplin) gives his most complex, revealing performances playing actors, and Blake is an amazing creation, at once slippery and charismatic, a natural-born performer who hears the sweetest music when he's singing for himself. This self-love goes beyond obvious narcissism: He truly lives in a Blakecentric universe.
That's why when the confrontation finally takes place, nothing comes off quite as expected. It's too bad then that Toback's script is laced with clichés (Blake is predictably mother-obsessed) and his attitude toward these sexually unconventional characters so staid. And for a film that relies so completely on dialogue, the sound quality is frustratingly poor.
As phenomenal as Robert Downey Jr. is in "Two Girls and a Guy," when Blake tells his lovers, "I am an actor and actors lie," it sounds less like an insight than a convenient cop-out.