Director Dana Adam Shapiro makes a less-than-smooth transition from documentaries to feature films with “Monogamy,” a monotonous slog about sex and commitment that grows so flaccid not even Viagra can save it.

Director Dana Adam Shapiro makes a less-than-smooth transition from documentaries to feature films with “Monogamy,” a monotonous slog about sex and commitment that grows so flaccid not even Viagra can save it.


Like his Oscar-nominated documentary, “Murderball,” Shapiro again shoots for a level of realism that’s as shocking as it is eye-opening. This time his aim is way off in chronicling the narcissistic machinations of a Brooklyn wedding photographer (Chris Messina from “Julie & Julia”), who questions his commitment to his fiancée (Rashida Jones) after a beautiful and mysterious blonde (Meital Dohan) hires him to take candid pictures of her having sex in public.


Outside the fine performances by Messina and Jones, “Monogamy” fails at every turn in attempting to make its points about what’s more fundamental to solid relationship: camaraderie or kinky sex. Messina’s Theo, for this film’s purposes, subscribes to the latter. But he doesn’t realize it until he starts sneaking around in the bushes snapping pictures of Dohan’s exhibitionism.


Almost as soon as she dips her hand under her skirt in the middle of a Manhattan park he realizes how much he wishes Jones’ Nat, a folk-singing granola-bar, could get her freak on outside the privacy of their bedroom. Assuming, of course, she even gives it up there, which is increasingly rare of late.


The more she holds out, the faster Theo, aka “Gumshoot,” grows obsessed with the woman he knows only as “Subgirl.” And, boy, does she put on a show. Heck, even Nat gets a little horny when she accidentally catches Theo drooling over the young woman’s photos on his computer.


But the rules of cliché-ridden indie flicks demand that some sort of conflict arise, no matter how contrived. And it occurs soon after Nat refuses to have sex with Theo while she’s recuperating in the hospital from a staph-infected finger.


Once Theo’s lascivious bedside manner gets her thumbs down, Shapiro sees it as a signal to cue the first of several musical montages about the rise and fall of Theo and Nat’s relationship. It all builds, excuse the expression, to a climax so powerful, at least in Shapiro’s mind, that it requires not one, but two endings, neither of which is the least bit fulfilling.


One reveals the less-than-surprising motivations behind Subgirl hiring Theo to stealthily photograph her; the other is a lame attempt to conjure meaning out of a film that has no discernable idea of what it wants to be about.


The scenes in which the gorgeous Dohan drops her drawers are as provocative as they are prurient. But they serve no purpose beyond occupying the spaces where Shapiro and his co-writer, Evan M. Wiener (I did not make up that name, folks), should have enhanced character development along with narrative depth.


Instead, all we get are a half-dozen sex scenes strung together by dull, plodding filmmaking that moves so slow a snail would look like Carl Lewis in comparison.


Like Theo and Nat’s relationship, it’s stark and empty. But don’t blame that on Jones and Messina, who bust their narrow tushies trying to pump life into a script suffering from a severe case of erectile dysfunction.


At least the movie looks great, shot nicely by Doug Emmett, who captures both the beauty and grittiness of New York City. But it marks a huge step down for Shapiro, a Newton native, who dazzled audiences and critics alike with “Murderball,” his powerfully moving tale about wheelchair rugby.


If “Monogamy” had even half that film’s heart and intelligence it might have gotten by. But as is, it’s more likely to inspire abstinence among Shapiro’s fans than fidelity.


MONOGAMY (Not rated, but contains sexual situations and rough language.) Cast includes Chris Messina, Rashida Jones and Meital Dohan. Co-written and directed by Dana Adam Shapiro. 1.5 stars out of 4.