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dot the i

Sex, lies, and videotape in the era of reality TV

Billed as a romantic thriller with a dark comedic twist, dot the i has all the trappings of a tease -- it's funny, sexy, and seductive; it shamelessly plays with your mind and expectations; and by the time you catch on, it leaves you emotionally empty and unsatisfied.

And it all starts so romantically with the fabulously wealthy Barnaby (James D'Arcy) proposing to his girlfriend, Carmen (Natalie Verbeke), a part-time flamenco dancer from Spain with a mysterious past, in the kitchen of his London mansion by slipping an onion ring on her third finger -- not that he's that cheap, but he just happens to be in the middle of preparing dinner when Carmen tells him that she loves him but that she may have to leave the country. The contrast between the two couldn't be more striking: he appears as dull and anal as he is wealthy and she comes off as fiery, passionate, and unpredictable as her famed operatic namesake.

No wonder things start to get complicated for Carmen when she locks eyes with a handsome chap called Kit (Gael GarcŪa Bernal), an aspiring actor with a pocketful of overdue bills and an annoying penchant for keeping a video diary of his daily encounters, during her bachelorette party at a posh French restaurant. When the waiter tells her that it is tradition for the bride-to-be to bid farewell to the world of dating by sharing one last kiss with a stranger of her choice, she picks Kit. What is supposed to be a quick peck and back to dinner turns into a lingering, passionate kiss that will change both their lives in ways that can't be revealed or even hinted at without spoiling the film for potential viewers.

Suffice it to say that Carmen finds herself the focus of attention in a bizarre love triangle as she tries to sort out her true feelings for the doting Barnaby, who has been so good to her since she arrived in London after running away from an abusive relationship in her native Madrid, and the sultry Kit, who shares her Latin roots and seemingly can respond to her passions in kind. She also finds herself in the crosshairs of a stalker who has no qualms letting her know that he is watching each and every of her steps, while being careful not to reveal his identity to her or the film's audience. By the time the film nears its (not-that-surprising) conclusion, you can't help but feel that, like the characters in the film, you've been had by someone else in the name of art (a common trope for writers and directors with a fashionable flair for the postmodern).

Written and directed by the British poet, novelist, and screenwriter Matthew Parkhill and beautifully illuminated and captured by veteran cinematographer Affonso Beato, dot the i is long on ambition and short on substance, which is somewhat disappointing given Parkhill's literary roots. In advancing his story, Parkhill relies too much on flashy gimmicks and soulless twists to project his self-reflective vision of love and relationships in the era of "Joe Millionaire", "Temptation Island", and other reality TV stables, while losing site of his characters who are little more than unaffectionate pawns in a devilish plot. In the end, dot the i is just as vacuous and derivative underneath its slick veneer as the emotional snuff films and TV shows it sets out to criticize.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars