Doing It to Death


Uptown Theatre, starts Friday


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IF INDIE FILMS are often more artistically daring than studio ones, it's because they can afford to be. A money-minded indie exec might bank on that rule as follows: All things being equal, a film that costs $1 million can take 10 times more risks than a film that costs $10 million, in trade for a potential audience of one-tenth the size. But not everyone wants to settle for just 10 percent of the masses. Thus, yearning to cross over yet lacking titanic promotional budgets, upwardly mobile indies depend on their daring as an economical way of getting our attention (e.g. the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs, the secret of The Crying Game, the entirety of Kids). Oh yeah: This attention-getting impulse is multiplied in the case of a first-time filmmaker, who needs not only to attract the audience, but her prospective funders as well.

Hence, Canadian director Lynne Stopkewich makes her debut with Kissed: a film about a woman who fucks dead bodies. Sorry to be so clinical about an artist's muse, but Kissed doesn't earn the right to be read as a statement of anything other than its maker's desire to have a career. (Might it have worked as a film about a woman making a film about a woman who fucks dead bodies? How 'bout dead hitmen?) Straining to seem tasteful, Kissed opens with an arty rendering of a fatal-accident scene and its necrophiliac heroine's poetic voiceover: "When life turns into death, it's explosive." In flashback, we see ghostly pale young Sandra grow up the Dawn Weiner of the death-obsessed (she happens to get her first period in the midst of rubbing a chipmunk's bloody body over hers), and then the film skips ahead 10 or so years to her employ as an embalmer (giving her quality time with corpses) and her necro-erotic hearse ride through a car wash in a scene highly reminiscent of Crash.

Another sensational movie about sex and death (by a fellow Canadian, yet), Crash invites endless consideration of the distances between art and porn, freeways and other social constructions, crash fetishists and David Cronenberg--not to mention every variety of tailgating and banging. Conversely, Kissed doesn't begin to work as a metaphor--for one's deathly need to control what she can't really have, say--which is why it's so... well, lifeless. The creepiest character turns out to be a workaday mortician, the sole bit of humor when Sandra (Molly Parker) tries to reassure her gape-mouthed, straight-laced suitor (Peter Outerbridge) that she only screws male corpses--you know, she's not a pervert or anything. Tellingly, Kissed finishes its business in a brief 78 minutes; like some neuter necrophiliac, its desire for stiffs goes soft. Bestiality or a bisexual living/dead orgy might have padded the running time to an hour and a half, but Stopkewich is probably saving those shockers for the sequel.

Albeit a comedy, Rusty Cundieff's Sprung is likewise concerned with exaggerated sexual perversity. Having remixed the mock rockumentary with Fear of a Black Hat and the horror anthology with Tales From the Hood, writer/director/actor Cundieff here samples About Last Night... for the off-color story of two well-meaning romantics (Cundieff and Martin's Tisha Campbell) and their pair of highly unsupportive friends. As it begins, Cundieff's aspiring filmmaker character, Montel, describes having been "sprung" ("v. 1. head over heels in love; 2. way past whipped; 3. game over," per the press kit) by Campbell's law-clerking Brandy, thus triggering an extended flashback that explicates how "women'll make you act a fool." Actually, Montel is a choirboy compared to his horny buddy, Clyde (Joe Torry), who plays at being a buppie in order to bed Adina (Paula Jai Parker), a woman whose gold-digging senses are so acute that she carries built-in radar to locate the balance on a brother's ATM receipt.

Focusing on Clyde and Adina's outrageously basic instincts (Cundieff stages their jackhammer sex like another near-deadly tale from the hood), the movie's first half is predicated on spoofing the stereotypical predator/prey nature of the urban mating game: Women hustle men for money, men hustle women for booty. Here, Sprung is at least as nasty as it wants to be, as the wealth of unexamined sexual hostility in this equation gives the film quite an edge--especially during a police lineup called by Adina, in which the usual suspects are required to recite the line, "Girl, I know you want deeez nuts!" But then the director disarms this sexual powder keg in favor of some formulaic and totally unconvincing courtship business between Brandy and Montel. Like the character he plays, Cundieff righteously aims to make a nonviolent film, but swings too far in the other extreme by flaunting his sticky-sweet sensitive side in a rather untrustworthy denouement. Whether it's Brandy, the audience, or both, somebody's getting played. CP

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