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Oddly unaffecting Two Lovers nonetheless has intriguing big-star cast and free admission on HDNet Movies

Elias Koteas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix in Two Lovers

Could it be that Mark Cuban is co-executive producer and HDNet Movies the first exhibitioner of Joaquin Phoenix's last feature film?

Two out of three wouldn't be bad. But is Two Lovers really the final time Phoenix will go before a camera? Can we believe him for more than an instant when he pledges allegiance to a newfound rap career?

Probably not. But just in case, here he is in a somber yet semi-uplifting film about a depressed would-be photographer who somehow manages to click with two disparate, attractive women. Opening in limited release Friday, Two Lovers gets a one-night "Sneak Preview" Wednesday (Feb. 11th) at 7, 9 and 11 p.m. (central) on HDNet Movies.

Cuban and his business partner, Todd Wagner, have gone this route before with a wide variety of generally offbeat or seriously flawed movies. But Two Lovers packs more star power and intrinsic curiosity than those that have gone before. Besides the peripatetic Phoenix, it stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Isabella Rossellini and the invariably interesting Vinessa Shaw (3:10 to Yuma).

Phoenix plays Leonard Kraditor, who's first seen jumping off a bridge before belatedly coming up for air. He's been pretty blue ever since his fiancee broke up with him. Now Leonard is living at home with his somewhat persnickety parents (Isabella Rossellini, Moni Monoshov), who own a drycleaning company in Brighton Beach. Leonard's currently making deliveries for the old man.

Marlon Brando might have played this role a couple of generations ago, although he'd probably demand a few more "Stella!!!" moments than the zero given to Phoenix. Leonard nonetheless is quite an odd character, creepy but perhaps just slightly charismatic, with two very pretty women for some reason vying for his affection and attention.

Michelle Rausch (Paltrow), mistress of a wealthy lawyer, meets Leonard by chance in an apartment hallway. Sandra Cohen (Shaw) is the soft-spoken daughter of a family friend who wants to buy out the Kraditors' business. The idea is also to merge Leonard and Sandra in marriage. And she's immediately all for it despite Leonard's very obvious instability.

Directed and written by James Gray (We Own the Night), Two Lovers ends up being watchable without ever being very plausible. It's very hard to believe that Paltrow's character would so quickly embrace Leonard as a friend, confidant and potential boyfriend. And when Sandra asks him to a party just moments after they make love for the first time, it's even harder to buy into Leonard saying, "I'll check to see if I'm free."

What's he have to check? The party's just a few days away, and this guy's social calendar isn't exactly off the charts. But Sandra simply says "OK," and leaves without any further discussion or rancor.

Leonard eventually is torn between these two women, one of whom he wants while the other wants him. Phoenix's center-ring performance is interesting in a method actor-y sort of way, but his character just isn't that compelling. Nor is Paltrow's.

The film's ending is no big surprise. Nor is it an abject downer. But Two Lovers could have gone either way without earning much of an emotional response. If Phoenix ever takes a good hard look at it, he'll decide he doesn't really want to go out this way.