Color, 2010, 97m.
Directed by Tamar Simon Hoffs
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Ashley Wren Collins, Angus MacFadyen, Timothy Bottoms, Dee Wallace, Whitney Able, Elizabeth Rodriguez
Odyssey (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD MA 5.1
Color, 2010, 97m.
The wave of teen-centric erotic thrillers seemed to die out around the early 2000s after reaching its unbeatable crescendo with Wild Things and a handful of fake sequels and knock offs (Gossip, The In Crowd, etc.), eventually becoming the terrain of TV with the twisty, trashy likes of Gossip Girl and Revenge. Apparently that memo never got to director Tamar Simon Hoffs, mother of The Bangles lead singer Susannah Hoffs and director of the junky '80s guilty pleasure The Allnighter, who's the filmmaker responsible for Pound of Flesh(which was briefly but unsuccessfully shopped around as well under the duller title of Killer Grade). As the Merchant of Venice-riffing title indicates, this one tries to dress up its cheap thrills with lots of literary references (most blatantly Shakespeare, of course) and opera music, but it's still seedy trash with a surprising cast you won't believe.
The central hook here is the extracurricular activites of beloved college literature professor Noah Melville (McDowell, teaming up with Hoffs again after the little-seen Red Roses and Petrol), who's figured out a good way to get all the pretty girls in his classes some plum scholarships -- by pimping them out to all the rich guys in town! Sure, that's all going to end well. Unfortunately, the lurid credits sequence reveals something's wrong already by showing a girl getting her bare butt massaged with the barrel of a shotgun and then tossed to her death off a balcony by her john. The murder is investigated by a boozing detective (MacFadyen, cashing a paycheck after getting dispatched from Saw sequels), and soon the whole house of cards threatens to come down. Melville also spends a lot of time hanging out with the college president (Bottoms), and Dee Wallace turns up in a couple of scenes as the dean, too. Eventually it all comes to a head in a finale that inexplicably veers away from the outrageous climax you might expect and instead starts delivering life lessons better suited to a Lifetime movie.
By any objective standard, this is a pretty terrible film. It's shot with a glossy but strangely cheap veneer including erratic blown-out contrast and tacky digital blue tinting in some scenes, and most of the older actors are lit in a very unflattering manner. However, it's got Malcolm McDowell in the lead relishing his role as a pimp daddy Shakespeare teacher, so it's not all quite a loss. On top of that, many of the coeds flash some skin here and there, and the hilarious theme song rips off Prince's "When Doves Cry" for no discernible reason. It's too bad the script completely loses the courage of its smutty convictions in the second half; if they'd pushed the story in a different direction and really allowed McDowell and company to cut loose, this could have been a trash gem for the ages. Instead, it's an unsuccessful but occasionally interesting curiosity that seems to have drifted out of a previous decade.
Odyseey's Blu-Ray release of this film (whose "Not Rated" brand on the back is understandable in the first few minutes of the film) appears to be an accurate reflection of the way the film was shot; it's got that odd digital veneer you see in a lot of low budget productions now, and when actors aren't filtered within an inch of their lives, it looks and sounds just fine. The DTS-MA audio is presented in both 2.0 stereo and a 5.1 remix (which is really aggressive and artificial), and optional English subtitles are also included. McDowell appears in both a standalone interview about making the film and his friendship with the director as well as a making-of featurette, which is basically an EPK-style puff piece with the cast and crew offering a broad overview of the plot and how it all came together. Hoffs introduces a reel of outtakes and extended scenes (some of its kind of filthy), and the disc rounds out with the original trailer.
Reviewed on 11/26/11.