Starring: Andie MacDowell, James Spader, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo
Rated R (probably for Explicit Sexual Dialogue and Language)
"sex. lies, and videotape" is one of those awful independent films where the characters talk and talk and don't say much, but think they're philosophers uncovering some greater meaning about sex, life and whatever. I don't know about you, but if I wanted that, I'd spend an hour and a half with a bunch of drunk hipsters. This movie is pretentious, it's boring, and certainly not worth your time.
Ann (MacDowell) is the sexually frigid wife of John (Gallagher), an arrogant lawyer. He's a real pig; not only did he make her quit her job to become a housewife, he's sleeping with her oversexed sister Cynthia (San Giacomo). Without her permission, John has invited Graham (Spader), his old college roommate, over to stay. Graham is impotent, but gets off on interviewing women about their sexual histories. His arrival shits the balance of the relationships between these people.
One question came into my mind while watching this movie: who cares? I certainly didn't. In addition to not being likable, these people aren't interesting. I had almost zero investment in what happened to them. They're essentially defined by a single trait, which for a movie means boredom. Ann is a repressed wallflower, Graham is a creep, John is a total bastard, and Cynthia is a sexpot without a conscience. It's a good starting point for what might well have been a play (it wasn't), but the film never really does anything with the premise or its characters. It's all set-up.
The actors are held hostage by the screenplay and the director's ego. They do what they can, but ultimately there's no saving this movie. Andie MacDowell shows range and depth that she rarely gets to show; known primarily as a light comic actress, MacDowell is more than capable of heavy material ("Harrison's Flowers" is a good example). James Spader is famous for playing creeps, and this is just another one of his, although it doesn't look like it required a lot of range. Peter Gallagher has little trouble playing a class A jerk. Laura San Giacomo could certainly be sexy if the film weren't so pretentious.
Steven Sodebergh is capable of making great movies; he did direct "Erin Brockovich," "Traffic," and "Magic Mike," which was the best film of 2012. But he's also been accused of "trying to be indie" with some of his more experimental films. That's the case here. This is a real ego trip, and that's never fun for the audience.
The movie is 27 years old, so maybe it's just dated. That could certainly explain why it was such a hit with critics and audiences back in 1989. It's definitely true that many movies don't age well. Certainly, a movie as risqué as "50 Shades of Grey" has more relevance than a movie about voyeurism where the raciest thing is talking about orgasms. But the characters don't say anything of interest. Is it erotic to listen to four people talk about their sexual histories, or lack thereof? Could be, if there was any sort of chemistry between them. But the clinical nature of the direction and the bland screenplay make it impossible to form any sort of connection between the characters and the audience.
This is just another one of those overhyped critical darlings that doesn't deserve any of the praise it was given.