Sex and Death 101 (2007) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, crude humor, some violence, and language
Running time: 117 min
Cast: Simon Baker, Winona Ryder, Mindy Cohn, Robert Wisdom, Patton Oswalt, Leslie Bibb, Neil Flynn, Tanc Sade, Dash Mihok, Sophie Monk, Julie Bowen
Director: Daniel Waters
Screenplay: Daniel Waters
Review published August 22, 2008
Set-to-marry fast food guru Roderick Blank (Baker, The Devil Wears Prada) receives a mysterious e-mail with a list of 101 women's names on it. He only recognizes the names of the first 29, which are the names of the women he has had sex with. Oddly, there are names after the woman he is about to marry (Bowen, Partner(s)). In order to make sure he sows all of his wild oats before tying the knot, Roderick postpones the wedding in order to bed as many women off of the rest of the list. However, he finds the road of fun and games isn't what it's cracked up to be, as he tries to find ways to break the rules to see if he can get out of what has become more of a chore than a blessing, especially as the last woman on his list just so happens to be the name of a serial predator, Death Nell (Ryder, A Scanner Darkly), who has been seducing and then putting men in comas around the city.
Director-screenwriter Daniel Waters (Demolition Man, Batman Returns) gets the chance to write dialogue for a black comedy starring Winona Ryder nearly 20 years after his first screenplay work, Heathers, nearly two decades before. Unfortunately, while Heathers had Waters tapping into the pulse of an angst-ridden generation, his more recent work flails desperately to find any sort of relevance, not only for 30-something bachelors, but for the real world as a whole. The premise is a gimmick, and its so ever-present, it literally doesn't allow any room for a story to breathe, as pit stops in order to flesh out the thin characterizations are no longer than a few minutes before we see our protagonist, Blank, move on to the next set of prurient circumstances.
Interest for this film is primarily sold by the appearance of Winona Ryder, still attractive and talented enough to be a leading lady but now relegated after years of exile to appearing in a supporting role in nearly straight-to-video schlock like Sex and Death 101 and The Darwin Awards. It's excruciating to see the actress struggle to be credible as a psychopathic seductress, especially when we have to hear her ludicrous monologue on how she became what she became. Although there isn't any shortage of nudity or sex in the film itself, none of it comes from Ryder, instead pushing out a bevy of beauties with plastic parts to get Baker a-grinning perpetually. Baker has been better than the material in the past, but the only depth given to his smarmy character is that he smiles more often than he speaks.
Full of sex, nudity and provocative situations, Sex and Death 101 remains curiously lacking in overall sexiness. Baker and the women provide the requisite eye candy, but the situations are too forced and the characters too thin to ever see them as anything more than gratuitous nudity when appearing without clothing. It also doesn't help that Roderick, despite his guilt and angst, doesn't exactly come across as sympathetic. Starting off with the fact that he'd willingly piss away his marriage to get his rocks off with as many women as possible, we later find him having sex with a decrepit leper (a misunderstanding) and then an attempt at necrophilia later with the woman he supposedly loves (Bibb, Talladega Nights). It's just hard to feel for a guy who's so distraught over losing the one thing that truly matters in his world when it takes him all of 30 seconds of grief to start back on his quest to get to the next woman on his list of sure things.
**Warning: spoilers in this paragraph** The story is quite predictable, and in many cases, nonsensical. There is a notion somewhere in the middle of the story that Roderick is better off not knowing the women he is going to bed and the sequence, so he decides to be rid of it once and for all. His method of being "rid" of the cursed list is to bury it about a foot deep in his back yard, and even goes so far as to put the sheet of paper in protective plastic before doing so. He could have done what the majority of people would, burn it, but this is a stupid movie with equally stupid characters. To no surprise, later in the film, Roderick discovers that the last woman on his list is Death Nell herself, setting the film up for several possible endings: Roderick will either be killed, end up with a former conquest, end up with another woman with the same name, or he and Death Nell will end up falling for each other. Given that they are both their own form of predators, and the casting of two attractive and likeable actors, the choice is blatantly obvious. And of course, despite the fact that she has committed many felonies, and her identity is well known and publicized throughout the media, statute of limitations must also include falling in love.
Although Waters isn't really too much of a slouch behind the camera, he commits a fatal romantic comedy sin of running the story far too long for the subject matter. At about 85 minutes, one could imagine taking this premise and managing to provide enough distraction to consider it an adequate time-waster. It certainly would have beefed up the percentage of Ryder's appearance in the film, which altogether lasts no more than 15 minutes of screen time. His film is almost two hours long, an extra half hour of mostly unfunny and uninteresting coital possibilities for no apparent reason save to make sure no stone is left unturned in his quest to break or embrace the chain of events. Even so, there is a small-time feel to the production that no doubt led to its irrelevance when released in very limited theaters, so it's to its benefit that it would be unleashed to the less discriminating realm of home video and cable television, where it will promptly find its small target audience before slipping quietly into the obscurity it deserves, buried within easy reach, though few will bother digging it back up.
©2008 Vince Leo