A modern Casanova
receives a mysterious e-mail listing every woman he's ever slept with, in
chronological order. He thinks it is a prank engineered by his pals until he
realizes that there are 101 names on the list and he has only had sex with the
first 29. He freaks out totally when the next two women on the list are the next
two women he has sex with. The high-concept explanation is offered by a trio of
... angels, I guess ... some nearly omniscient guys who tell him that the list
is for real and details every women he will ever sleep with until he dies.
You can see from the premise that I could easily be writing about one of those
high-concept 1970s Italian sex farces, but this is actually a new American
movie, and it's not a bad little comedy, with some intriguing ideas, many of
them politically incorrect.
Of course the idea is silly and impossible, but some very good and thoughtful
comedies have come out of similar concepts. Consider Groundhog Day, for example,
which is similar to this film in using a far-fetched premise to create a film
that walks a thin line between outright farce and thoughtful examinations of human nature. The two most important things an author has to do with a premise
like this are: (1) to get the
characters to react realistically to an unrealistic situation; (2)
to get the maximum comedic and philosophical mileage out of the idea. I give
this author a thumb up on both counts, for producing some good laughs and
raising some interesting questions at the same time.
What would you do if you were about to get married and your fiancée were only #29
on a list of 101 lovers? Would you call off the wedding, knowing that you would cheat
on her, or worse, that she might die soon? What would you do when you meet the
woman of your dreams, and she's NOT on the list. What would you do if a
centerfold babe from a rich family were next on the list? Would you still make
an effort to seduce her romantically, or would you just be selfish and cavalier,
knowing full well that you were going to get laid anyway? If her father were in
the room, would you still go after her right then and there, knowing that he
can't do much harm to you because you still have seventy more women on your
list? How would you react when the next name on the list turned out to be a man?
What would you do if a known serial killer were the last one on the list? (It's
a killer of serial seducers, no less!)
Some of those situations are exploited for lowbrow laughs. Our hero goes to the
Playmate's bedroom and screws her senseless. Or so he thinks. The next morning she asks why he
never showed up. It turns out that somebody else in her family's mansion has the
exact same name - and the implications of that are totally disgusting! On the
other hand, some
situations are used to reflect on some interesting aspects of human nature.
Most of the the comedy and nudity are concentrated in the first half, making the
second half more sentimental and contemplative. That was dictated by the
premise. The central character is human, not omniscient, and must therefore
learn how to deal with his seemingly impossible situation. That's a gradual
process, which the
protagonist begins by thinking too little and messing up too much,
so those early screw-ups generate the laughs. As time goes on, he learns to use
the gift/curse, and as he becomes wiser his buffoonery is reduced, so the
film edges out of farce and into a more reflective mode. Groundhog Dog follows a
similar tonal path with a similar premise.
Of course, Sex and Death 101 is not as strong an effort as the Groundhog Day.
It's not as hilarious in the funny parts, and it's not as recondite in the
thoughtful parts. On the other hand, this film has something Groundhog Day was
missing - high-spirited raunch and nudity. The author of the Murray film knew
that his central character would go through a raunchy sex phase before achieving some
wisdom, but that film was coy and oblique in its approach to the subject, while
Sex and Death 101 flat-out goes for it.
I would have enjoyed the film even without the nudity, but that is also very
stimulating. (See the nudity report for details.)
The writer/director of Sex and Death 101 wrote two other films I like: Heathers and Demolition Man,
two more politically incorrect comedies with interesting things to say about the
world. Heathers is considered a cult classic, and I have often argued that
Demolition Man is a very funny movie which is radically underrated by IMDb
voters at 6.1 because people tend to treat it as a mediocre action movie instead
of a top-notch spoof. Sex and Death will
undoubtedly end up at that same general level, but it is a fine effort, a good
raunchy entertainment film with some brains as a bonus!