Picks and Pans Review: In the Company of Men

updated 08/11/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/11/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Aaron Eckhart, Stacy Edwards, Matt Malloy

Heading through an airport on their way to a six-week work assignment, two junior executives in an unspecified business discover that they have both been dumped by their girlfriends. After commiserating about the heartlessness of women, the studlier of the pair (Eckhart) suggests, "Let's hurt somebody." His proposal: While in the unnamed town, where they're headed for business, they find some vulnerable young woman and both begin to court her. They will sweep her off her feet and then, just before leaving town, each will dump her. "It'll be a little payback on all this messy relationship stuff we're dealing with," Eckhart explains. His colleague (Malloy), though a step above Eckhart on the corporate ladder and therefore supposedly wiser, readily agrees to this sordid scenario. Their plan becomes even more repugnant when they zero in on a potential target: a lovely deaf secretary (Edwards).

And so goes the singularly most chilling film so far this year. In the Company of Men, an impressive debut movie by writer-director Neil LaBute, is a provocative look at male gamesmanship that raises as many questions about its characters as it answers. After seeing Men (which deservedly was named best dramatic film by La Bute's fellow filmmakers at last winter's Sundance Film Festival), either you will stay up half the night discussing it, or you will find the story so profoundly disturbing that you will feel too wrung out to talk about it at all.

Men features strong performances by its trio of relative newcomers, particularly Eckhart, whose potent leading-man charm proves all the more disturbing when it becomes clear what a manipulatively malevolent knave he is and just who his real target is. And Edwards (TV's Santa Barbara), who is not deaf in real life, is both radiant and heartbreaking as a woman who blossoms under the sudden attention of two seemingly ardent swains. (R)

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