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Sex and Death 101 A Lesson In Missed Opportunities

Sex and Death 101 (Anchor Bay, 2008)
Written and directed by Daniel Waters

Last year I reviewed a terrible film called Flakes; it was directed by Michael Lehmann, who in 1989 directed Heathers, a film that tanked in theaters, but became a cult hit on cable and video. I stated in my review of Flakes, that whatever credit Heathers deserves belongs not to Lehman, but to the writer, Daniel Waters.


Now we have, a little less than a year later, a film directed and written by Waters. Much like Flakes, the film was dumped on only a couple of screens a few months ago, and is now being sent directly to DVD. While treading some similar ground, one could call this Heathers for adults, I don’t get the impression that Sex and Death 101 is going to adapt itself well to a cult following.


Sex and Death 101 is not a bad film by any means. It has a great broad-minded plot line for an R rated sex comedy. Roderick Blank (Simon Baker), a CEO of an upscale fast food chain called Swallows, is on the verge of getting married to Fiona (Julie Bowen). He receives a strange and ominous e-mail that displays a list of female names. This is not just any list, however. The female names represent every woman Roderick has ever slept with, and they are listed in the order of each encounter. Fiona is number 29 on the list; however, what’s even odder is that there are 72 names after Fiona’s.


Roderick soon meets three men clad in business suits who reside in a white room with a giant computer that they call the oracle. These men are Alpha (Robert Wisdom), Beta (Tanc Sade), and Fred (Patton Oswalt). While their rankings in the afterlife are never explained, they obviously somehow are able to get readings from the Oracle which usually spit out specific dates of when people are going to die. They are confused when Roderick is actually given this type of list, so they decide to meet with him face to face and hopefully help him figure out what all of this means.


After Alpha and Beta try desperately to get Roderick to just bury or burn the damn list, Fred talks him into exploring it a little further. So, Roderick, being the curious sex craved man that he is, calls off the wedding and decides to start seeking out the remaining 72 names on the list. It doesn’t come without its hiccups however; when Roderick thinks he’s about to have a fun night with a playmate, he ends up in the wrong room and sleeps with her grandmother, who the playmate was named after.


Meanwhile, there is a woman out there who has been given the moniker, Death Nell (Heathers alum, Winona Ryder), by the media. She has been seducing men and then inducing them into a coma. She’s not really a serial killer, but more along the lines of a Serial Coma Inducer. When she leaves her driver’s license at one of her crime scenes, her true name is revealed to be Gillian De Raisx. Roderick finds familiarity in the name, and double-checks his list. Sure enough, she’s number 101; the final girl in possibly more ways than one.


This storyline could make for great black comedy by taking a lot of different directions. Unfortunately, Waters chooses a safer course and makes it fairly pedestrian which is quite a bit of a let down. This is the same man that drove lines into our subconscious like “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw” and my personal favorite line of all time, “I love my dead, gay son.” With the exception of a few tasty monologues from Patton Oswalt (which might very well have been improvised), everything else in the film is pretty tame.


The middle section of the film almost kills it completely. A character is introduced named Miranda (Leslie Bibb), who Roderick becomes borderline obsessed with. She is not on his list, but he tries his damnedest to create his own destiny. I will not give away how this particular sequence of events pans out, but it takes the movie into a rather grotesque direction that is neither funny nor comforting.


After this strange diversion, the oracle’s trio tells Roderick that they have figured out where Death Nell will be in two weeks and can take care of her then, so he won’t have to worry anymore. He still has twenty names on the list before hers, so it really shouldn’t be that hard to last the two weeks without going through them all. I must admit how he screws this predicament up provides the film with its funniest moment, and was more of the direction I wish the rest of the film had taken.


This new series of events leads to the inevitable meeting between Roderick and Death Nell. At this point, it would only be annoying if they didn’t make a date. We get a somewhat interesting conversation piece in a diner that gives us an unneeded back story and a lot of “come hither” glances between our two stars. Then we get an ending that is circumspect at best, and even if you were to buy into the situation, I don’t think anyone could comfortably say the film earned it.


I’m not as big a fan of Heathers as a lot of people are. I’ve always been of the opinion that it doesn’t handle its directional shift into the dark side very well. But what Heathers did represent at the time was a unique voice that we would hopefully be hearing some more of.


After Heathers, Waters wrote a lot of big budget misfires such as The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Batman Returns, and one of the biggest bombs to ever be detonated, Hudson Hawk. I must admit a strange fondness for his 1993 Sylvester Stallone vehicle, Demolition Man, but it’s still not exactly sharp or intelligent displays of storytelling.


With Sex and Death 101, Waters is obviously trying to tap into that Heathers goldmine. I’m not sure if he just lost his nerve, or forgot how to write comedy, but this film is neither as dark nor funny as it wants us to think it is. While there are enough workable bits and pieces on display, I can give this a slight recommendation. I mean it’s a hell of a lot better than The Love Guru, but it could have been so much more that I can’t help but be disappointed.


Sam Loomis

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