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Rating:*** 1/2 Low-budget movie about twenty something L.A. actor types on the prowl. Starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn. Written and co- produced by Favreau. Directed by Doug Liman. Rated R, opening Friday in the Amherst Theater.

"Swingers," they say, is a great date movie. For those unfamiliar with "the date movie" as a cinematic genre (like, say, the thriller, western or film noir), it's more an audience aid than a movie genre. It goes like this: You and your honey (or would-be honey) watch the movie. You laugh. Maybe you hold hands, maybe you don't. You don't neck but you try to convey the desire nevertheless.

Later, at dinner, you talk about the entertaining low-budget movie and how cool you both feel for having seen it and liked it. You talk about what colossal jerks the would-be Sinatras in the movie are -- with their revived 1962 ideas about how testosterone ought to behave. You both agree on the primacy of feelings in the world. At the same time, you both convey that having fun is a very solid No. 2.

You are preparing the way for further intimacies -- or "scoring," as it is sometimes called in traditional sports-derived male vocabulary.

If all tests are passed ("Oh, yes, let's definitely hear Tori Amos again"), shots have been authenticated and precautions taken, the guy gets what he wants. The girl gets what she wants, too, while, at the same time, not feeling used by the guy. The only thing left to decide is whether you can agree on how you want your eggs in the morning -- scrambled, over easy, soft-boiled, poached, shirred. (If you're into poached and shirred, your idea of a "date movie" is probably "Big Night," despite the scrambled eggs in the final scene.)

Hollywood strikes again.

If you think I'm going to say dire things about any movie that can prove to be useful in the often-strained interchanges between modern man and modern woman, you're crazy. On the other hand, if you think I'm going to subscribe to the critical notion that "Swingers" is a fresh new low-budget comedy opening up fresh directions in modern American movies, you're even crazier.

It's an enjoyable trifle, for sure. A bunch of out-of-work L.A. actors got together and made a movie about a bunch of out-of-work L.A. actors who sit around waiting to get . . . uh, to score. If it seems as if Miramax brings out a movie like this every month ("The Pallbearer," anyone? "Beautiful Girls"?), you're not mistaken. I have no idea why the little independent studio of Woody Allen and "Microcosmos" wants to set itself up in the testosterone and callousness protection racket, although I have no doubt that in the nostalgia glands of the Weinstein Brothers, Harvey and Bob, what you see at your local Cinema Paradiso all connects up somehow to how you and the guys used to B.S. over beers and get . . . uh, score.

Nor did it hurt, no doubt, that Jon Favreau, the writer, star and executive producer of "Swingers," used to be 100 pounds heavier -- and that when he was, he was probably a younger dead ringer for Harvey Weinstein, the former
Buffalo concert mogul who went on to be an international mover and shaker of moviedom.

Then again, maybe "Swingers" is just a small and successful version of the kind of dreary demographic targeting that makes TV what it is -- a way, in other words, to tap into the potentially lucrative "Friends" audience at weekend play. Movie scholars tend to think of Miramax, in its youth-pandering mode, as a sort of modern upscale variation on the old American International Studios, the people who made Roger Corman possible.

There is nothing wrong with a lot of movies made about people in the larval stages of life, unless you wonder whether the next stage is some sort of genuine insect molting or honest-to-God recognizable human adulthood.

I'll say this much -- the insects in another current Miramax movie, "Microcosmos," act far more endearingly human than the guys in "Swingers" usually do.

Still, you have to grant that it's one of the more entertaining of Miramax's Confused Twentysome-thing Guys on the Prowl movies.

It's like this: Young L.A. movie actor Mike (Favreau) broke up with Michelle when he moved from New York after being together for six years.

"You have to put things in perspective," his macho philosopher buddy Trent says to the obsessing and hopelessly mopey Mike. "There are plenty of fish in the sea." His buddy Trent, after all, is a boudoir champ with some higher glandular wisdom (that is to say, lower wisdom) on the subject. Mike isn't convinced. He just doesn't want to make time with "nasty skanks."

Neither of these guys has found much traction in the world. Mike is the open-mike emcee at Club Ha-Ha. Trent is waiting for his sitcom to come in.

One of their friends (they'll hook up later) is hoping to get a gig as Goofy at Disney World.

So, in order to score and haul Mike's ego out of the ashes, Mike and Trent both go to Vegas, would-be Sinatras ready to cruise. They are, in Trent's parlance, "money" (which is the movie's initially funny and quickly nauseating hip synonym for being attractive, sharp, "cool" and sexually viable). To the rest of us, Trent is a hopeless blowhard doofus with "doofus" written over every thought and action. Mike, in his company, is hopeless -- and close to hilarious.

When they order Scotch, they ask, of course, for something single-malted -- Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, "any glen will do." (Glengarry Glen Ross? Sure, that, too, no doubt.)

Trent (Vince Vaughn) is the major Sinatra-in-training in the group, the one whose good looks attract a lot of attractive and not-too-bright women out for a good time. "You gotta get off this respect," he advises Mike. "They just want to know you want to party." Or as Cyndi Lauper used to say, "Girls just want to have fun." (Cf. Sheryl Crow -- "All I Want to Do Is Have Some Fun.")

The two wild and crazy guys find a cocktail waitress and a friend and go to their house trailer. Mike still has Michelle seared in his heart, so only problems arise.

The hunt for phone numbers and partners continues while the full multicolored splendor of male self-pity and self-delusion gets some good, if very easy, laughs, as it would in any improv skit devised by very bright young L.A. actors whose careers are in larval stages. They go to bars, Hollywood parties. The fluid feeling of males cruising for females is handled extremely well by director Doug Liman.

And to be perfectly honest, Mike's liberation from his obsession with the departed Michelle is handled with unexpected grace by Favreau the writer, if not Favreau the actor.

It's a happy, funny movie made on a change-purse budget by a bunch of Hollywood guys with no prospects, guys with the Hollywood conviction that "everyone steals from everybody."

That's why there's a huge difference between "Swingers" and Kevin Smith's "Clerks," an even cheaper movie about convenience store clerks made by a convenience store clerk.

Smith is a practicing Catholic who is, at the moment, writing a movie about the church called "Dogma."

If Favreau gets his way, he'll probably be hanging out with Quentin Tarantino and appearing in Tarantino's movies.

Smith, on the other hand, seems to roll his own. He has an edge -- and a talent and a feisty spirit. Someday (it may take a decade or so), he's going to make a great movie. That's because somewhere in his heart he will always be a video store clerk.

Favreau? He's just another Hollywood actor. The world is full of them.

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