The Rachel Papers (1989) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual situations, nudity, and language
Cast: Dexter Fletcher, Ione Skye, Jonathan Pryce, James Spader, Bill Paterson, Michael Gambon, Lesley Sharp
Director: Damian Harris
Screenplay: Damian Harris
Call it a British version of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, only less successful. Normally I would knock a film for clearly going into plagiaristic mode in style, but to be honest. when it's in Ferris-mode, it actually is quite good. Trouble is, about halfway through, The Rachel Papers shifts gears, turning into a sex flick, then into a drama. Neither one is particularly compelling, and soon, one stops caring about whether or not Charles (Fletcher, Below) ever achieves the happiness he has been striving for all along.
The plot is taken from the book of the same name by Martin Amis. While attempting to gain acceptance at Oxford, an American girl named Rachel (Skye, Say Anything...) atches Charles' eye at a party, and he spends the remainder of his free time plotting to gain her, inputting all of the data into his home computer for analysis. The biggest obstacle: Rachel's upper-crust boyfriend, Deforest (Spader, Sex Lies and Videotape). Charles may not be blessed with the best of looks, but he has loads of personality, tenacity, and a game plan that is bound to work.
If the energy and inventiveness of the first 40 minutes could have continued for the duration, The Rachel Papers would have been a nice comic gem, perhaps gaining the cult following that Ferris Bueller has amassed. Alas, as much as we like to see Ione Skye naked, this film is the wrong one to have fifteen minutes on seemingly non-stop writhing and explicit sexual innuendo, especially when it didn't set itself up for it from the outset. To give you an example of how wrong this turn is, imagine in Ferris Bueller if all of a sudden, Matthew Broderick and Mia Sara stripped down all of their clothes and proceeded to engage in several scenes of simulated humping smack dab in the middle of their fluffy teen comedy. Yes, we get so turned off by seeing Charles in action, it starts to creep us out, and it doesn't help that Dexter Fletcher looks like the offspring of Mick Jagger and Harry Connick, Jr., if such a horrific thing could scientifically happen.
Even James Spader fans will come away mostly empty-handed in an under-written role as the stuffy companion, leaving us with but half a good movie, and characters we bailed out on around the time of their first copulation. Hey, I like steamy sex as much as the next pervert, but I can get that on late night Cinemax any night of the week. It just isn't worth ditching the energy and charm the film had built up so well, leaving you scratching your head thinking, "Hey good movie, where'd you go?"
©2003 Vince Leo