Don’t believe this guy

By and

“Trust the Man”Fox Searchlight PicturesWritten and directed by Bart Freundlich

Starring: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eva Mendes and Glenn Fitzgerald

Rated R/103 minutesOpened Sept. 15, 2006Two out of four stars

Four upper-class, neurotic New Yorkers dealing with infidelity, unhappiness and the paralyzing fears of death — now that sounds familiar.

Writer/director Bart Freundlich very much wants to be Woody Allen, from his subject matter right down to the Manhattan locale. And his independent feature “Trust the Man” desperately wants to be a Woody Allen movie. And it wants to be an egocentric male coming-of-age movie. And it wants to be, say, “Friends.” The result, as one might expect, is a polarizing fusion of pseudo-confessional theater and conventional romantic-comedy phoniness.

The film doesn’t have the honesty or the courage to follow through on its natural momentum; it wants to confront the harsh realities of adulthood, and it wants to be a crowd-pleaser — and sometimes those two just don’t mix.

This is the kind of movie that thinks it’s intelligent enough to reference Albert Camus even while it falls into every B.S. rom-com convention Freundlich can “think up.”

The principle characters — embodied by four excellent actors, by the way — are writers and actors and the best of pals. Their lives may be dismal and frantic, but they always have time to discuss it over a few glasses of wine or a couple of chilidogs. Tom (David Duchovny) is a part-time writer and stay-at-home dad, married to a famous actress, Rebecca (Julianne Moore), whose younger brother Tobey (Billy Crudup) is Tom’s best friend. Tobey has been dating the lovely and patient Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for seven years with no change-for better or worse-in sight.

Naturally, these people are unhappy for various reasons. Elaine wants to get married and have kids, but Tobey refuses to grow up (his mornings consist of cereal and “SportsCenter”?and there’s nothing wrong with that, by the way), even at age 36. Tom is struggling with his self-identity and so proceeds to start an affair with a rich, beautiful divorcée. Tobey is in therapy, Elaine is trying to get her just-completed children’s book published and Rebecca (unfortunately, the least-developed character in the film?Moore is great, but her efforts are wasted) is struggling to find motivation for her latest play.

“Trust the Man” is full of subplots that go absolutely nowhere and plot developments that serve no other logical purpose than to provide the film with a contrived obstacle. Vet actors Garry Shandling and Ellen Barkin are completely wasted, showing up for completely pointless one-scene cameos.

In fact, a lot of this movie seems wasted. We get four solid performances — particularly the underrated Crudup, who injects some verve and personality into an often-lifeless storyline — but Freundlich can’t connect with them.

And he falters in the most pivotal of moments; in what turns out to be one of the turning points of the film, Rebecca confronts Tom and says: “I feel like I don’t even know you anymore?” (groan), to which he answers: “”I’m just lost?I don’t know who I am?”

Or something. I’ve heard that exchange so many times by now, my eyes just gloss over and I wait for the reel to change.

The film’s many characters and meandering subplots often get in the way of one another. Allen, as mentioned earlier, used similar subplots as devices to get to the heart of characters or to establish something bigger. And while his films covered similar territory, they had far more conviction and honesty. From the very start of “Trust the Man,” we can see the mechanized wheels of the screenplay start turning, and we know exactly what we’re in for.

“Maybe our excessive coffee consumption is the reason we’re so jittery.” Billy Crudup and David Duchovny kvetch in “Trust the Man.”