Here at My Year Of Flops Incorporated we've explored a broad spectrum of terminally unsexy sex films that collectively put the "blechhh" into "sex". From Havoc to Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction to Body Of Evidence I've surveyed some of the unsexiest sex films ever made with a visceral combination of revulsion and disgust.
Today I'll explore the mother of all unsexy sex films: 1994's Exit To Eden, a once-in-a-lifetime cross between HBO's Real Sex and Love, America Style. It's a transgressive erotic drama! No it's a wacky diamond smuggling comedy with Rosie O'Donnell and Dan Aykroyd! No, it's a transgressive erotic drama and it's wacky diamond smuggling comedy with Rosie O'Donnell and Dan Aykroyd!
It's a surreally misguided attempt to make the kinky world of BDSM palatable to a conservative, mainstream audience by dressing up Dan Aykroyd like The Gimp and putting Rosie O'Donnell in revealing domantrix gear. In the overheated parlance of the panting summary on the back of its video box, the film offers the scintillating promise of O' Donnell "thigh-high in leather and studs with a personal slave-boy to fulfill her every whim". That, apparently, was supposed to be a major draw: the prospect of oceans and oceans of Rosie O'Donnell flesh squeezed into tight leather. Is there a more sure-fire erection killer this side of graphic photo books about the late stages of syphilis? How can anyone become comfortably aroused with the prospect of a half-naked O'Donnell forever looming just around the corner?
Exit To Eden's headlining cast combines two people who have no business starring in a big Hollywood film (Paul Mercurio and Dana Delany) and two people who have no business promenading about publicly in S&M; gear (Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O'Donnell).
Sex and comedy are a tough combination to pull off. When was the last time you watched a sex comedy and found yourself thinking, "Wow! I'm laughing uproariously and I have a raging erection! This movie rawks!" It's been illustrated time and time again that sex and comedy go together only when sped up and accompanied by Boots Randolph's "Yakkety Sax". But what happens when the sexy stuff isn't sexy and the funny stuff isn't funny?
Exit To Eden began life as a non-comic erotic romance novel pseudonymously-written by Anne Rice. When a woman who dresses like an extra in a Bauhaus video well into middle age doesn't want to be publicly associated with a project that really tells you something.
What cinematic sensualist was called upon to bring Rice's erotic vision to the big-screen? Adrian Lyne? David Lynch? How about the nice old Jewish grandfather behind Happy Days and The Other Sister? Yes, Exit To Eden was shepherded onto the big-screen by Garry Marshall, a filmmaker with a preternatural ability to transform everything he touches into a banal sitcom.
So a straight erotic drama was transformed into a cop comedy/Vaseline-smeared romance/touchy-feely New Age drama. It's an old story, really. Dana Delany went through life a doormat until an older lover introduced her to Hector Elizondo, who told her words that would change her life. ""I am a top, a master. You are a bottom, a submissive. Yet we are not different. We are in unison, to please each other. Just tell me your wishes. Welcome to my world…It is a world in which you have all the choices. You are a victim in life. I will teach you to always be in total control. I will teach you never to be a victim ever again. Never."
Elizondo is pretty much the Yoda of deviant sex. I half expected him to continue: "Life victim you are. Teach you I will. Control total will you have". A wallflower no more, Delany becomes the head mistress of a fantasy pleasure island where she rules over an army of slaves and submissives, including Paul Mercurio, a love-struck photographer who made the mistake of photographing a pair of diamond smugglers played by Stuart Wilson and David Bowie's Wife.
When Wilson and David Bowie's Wife head to Delany's Pleasure island to track down the negatives, wisecracking cop duo Rosie O'Donnell and Dan Aykroyd follow in hot pursuit, hoping to get to Mercurio before the bad guys can retrieve the photos with extreme prejudice.
O'Donnell is introduced in stripper gear and a hair-metal wig. But O'Donnell isn't just eye candy. She also provides a punishing assault of bad jokes via the film's Dragnet-style narration. ""Hi, I'm Sheila Kingston and I'm a cop. Thought I was a super model? Don't feel bad. Everyone makes that mistake" O'Donnell offers by way of introduction. It doesn't get any better from there.
Once the film makes it onto the island it veers between three distinct tones: the giggly, embarrassed sex comedy of O'Donell and Aykroyd, who treat the kinky goings-on at the island with Beavis and Butthead-like sophistication, new age romance and the thriller-by-numbers action of the diamond smuggling plot, which feels arbitrary even by the lenient standards of gratuitous diamond-smuggling subplots.
To help pass the time I imagined that Exit To Eden was secretly a subversive sci-fi drama about a mysterious island staffed and populated entirely by sex androids. That would certainly explain a lot, from the robotic performances and affectless line readings of Delany and her minions to the complete dearth of plausible human emotion on display. Certainly flesh and blood human beings would never utter things like: "I made a fool of myself at that race, hopping off my horse like some jealous bird brain." "Very good, pretty eyes. Now I'm going to let you feel what you so much wanted to see." "Finally, The experts predict that to survive intimacy in the year 2000, women will learn to be more sexually aggressive and men more romantic." "Eliot was intrigued by erotica but reticent to try it until now." "You must discuss your sexual fantasies with your partner." (in a Freudian slip I originally transcribed that sentence as "You must disgust your partner") "All this ceremony and ritual makes me so aroused!" "I guess I'm off to your S&M; fantasy island where the little guy goes around going "Da Pain, Da Pain!" "In this era of fringe group lunacy shouldn't we also preserve freedom of choice for this most intimate of choices: sex?" "C'mon Fred, Welcome to the 90s. It's just an alternative lifestyle" "Have you ever been with someone who made violin music play in your head?"
The BDSM elements of Exit To Eden ultimately amount to little more than kinky window-dressing for a thoroughly vanilla romance between a woman reluctant to give up power for fear of getting hurt and a man afraid of embracing his kinks out of fear of being branded a pervert.
Just how staggeringly banal and wholesome is the film's fierce head dominatrix? When Mercurio asks Delany what she likes best in bed she giggles "What do I like to do best in bed? I like to giggle. Cuddle and giggle. After a long day of smacking people it's nice to cuddle." I think it's safe to also assume she enjoys long walks on the beach, holding hands under the moonlight and watching her stories on the teevee while eating bon-bons and scooping Haagen-Daas straight out of the container.
It's a measure of the film's almost comic inertness that I found myself thinking "Wow, I really hope they get back to that scintillating diamond-smuggling subplot. All this sex stuff is boring me to tears." Over one hundred and twenty glacially paced minutes of pure cinematic torture the film manages to make kinky sex seem both boring and tacky. If it were more widely seen I suspect that the image of O'Donnell in dominatrix gear could have created nearly as many eunuchs as the Catholic priesthood.
Exit To Eden is a doddering old square's take on the outer limits of sexuality, a blandly sentimental romance decked out in leather and lace. In case there's any lingering doubts about its romance-novel soul O'Donnell's narration ends with the following moral: "So what did I learn from this case? No matter what your sexual preference true love is still the ultimate fantasy." Now if you'll excuse me I have to projectile vomit.
Exit To Eden was a huge critical and commercial flop domestically, though I hear that it did much better in Japan under the title Happy Sexy Go-Go Naked China Beach Lady Fun Movie. Exit To Eden attained a strange measure of notoriety when it was briefly banned in Saskatchewan. Aykroyd quipped "I guess they just don't have sex in Saskatchewan" but I like to think the ban was due more to matters of quality rather than decency, in which case I salute the good people of Saskatchewan for their taste and judgment.
Exit To Eden was suppose to open minds and unleash repressed ids. Instead it's a bang-up advertisement for sexual repression. From here on out I'm not even going to shower naked.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Failure