When the delicate alchemy at the core of Alan Rudolph's aesthetic is off, as in Trixie and Breakfast Of Champions, the results can be downright embarrassing. So it isn't exactly encouraging that the cult auteur's Investigating Sex was filmed in 2001 but is only now receiving a discreet direct-to-DVD burial under the moniker Intimate Affairs. While every bit as leering, the blandified new title more closely evokes the tawdry fare that runs at 3 a.m. on Cinemax and showcases the formidable talents of Shannons Tweed or Whirry.
If a film lingers too long on the shelf, a top-flight cast stops being a badge of honor and becomes suspect. The thinking inevitably goes from "Wow, that project must be great to attract such an esteemed cast" to "Wow, that project must suck if even that cast can't secure it so much as a token theatrical release." So it's a mixed blessing that Rudolph's film combines the talents of Nick Nolte, Terrence Howard, Julie Delpy, Jeremy Davies, Dermot Mulroney, Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Alan Cumming, and even a rare appearance by Tuesday Weld. Rudolph's period romance suggests Kinsey re-imagined as a goofy sex comedy. Mulroney stars as a brooding young academic in '20s Paris intent on delivering a detached, rational, intellectual study of male sexuality, funded by raffish stock-market speculator Nick Nolte. The presence of a pair of sexy stenographers (uninhibited Robin Tunney and repressed Neve Campbell) proves a wild card that makes the ridiculous farce of separating sex from love and arousal from emotion seem like even more of a quixotic notion.
With great films like Choose Me and Trouble In Mind, Rudolph long ago solidified his status as one of film's most incurable romantics, so it should surprise no one that he's made a film about sex that's really all about love. A cockeyed romanticism pervades the film as its brainy neurotics pair off with each other and resolve various love triangles. It's a trifle that traffics more in nervous, abashed chuckles than belly laughs, but Rudolph's ebullience and his amazingly game cast keep it afloat. In large part because the circumstances of its DVD release engender such low expectations, Rudolph's featherweight, briskly amusing little sleeper can't help but qualify as a pleasant surprise.
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