He (Tucci) is a third-rate nightclub magician. She (Clarkson) wanders in to his bar one night, looking for a man she’s supposed to meet. They strike up a conversation, only to abruptly terminate it. Then the woman leaves and re-enters; they introduce themselves and make some small talk. After insults are exchanged, the “date” ends as awkwardly as it started. The couple will meet again the next night…and every evening after that. Each time they assume new personae—a journalist and his subject, a therapist and her patient, dancing partners—and each time things go badly. These two damaged people know each other, it seems. And the painful secret they harbor is something that no amount of role-playing can fix.
A remake of the late Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh’s 1996 drama, Stanley Tucci’s theatrical take on the material reaches the edge of its limitations quickly; there’s only so much you can do with two people, a half-dozen scenarios and a shabby-chic barroom (albeit one big enough to house a bumper-car rink). It’s the kind of two-hander that relies solely on the chemistry of the actors, both of whom banter, parry and bum rush their way through various left turns with grace. Their pas de deux almost makes up for this threadbare tragedy’s no-win endgame. Almost.