Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Retro Review: Sex and Death 101

editor's note: In his continuing quest to re-post older reviews that never made it from the old Blogorium to its present home, Cap'n Howdy has been delivering piles of digital bits to me in the hopes I know what to do with it. Some movies are older than others, but most of these come from a period between 2006 and 2009, when the move took place. Enjoy


It seems fitting that almost twenty years after his first screenplay, Heathers, writer Daniel Waters would return with a kind-of-sort-of sequel. Oh, I'm sorry; did you not hear about this? Sex and Death 101? Well, I won't lie to you and say "oh I followed it from day one", because it was a surprise to me too. The good news is that this kind of surprise is the good one.

    Roderick Blank (Simon Baker of Land of the Dead) is a normal guy living a normal life, about to be engaged when he receives an anonymous email. This email has the name of every woman he's ever slept with, and it turns out his fiance is number 29. On a list of 101. You can imagine where this is going, but you might be surprised where it ends up. The list comes from... well, I won't spoil that. Let's just say it involves Patton Oswalt and a white room. Again, that's only giving you part of the scenario.

    First things first: don't expect an actual sequel to Heathers with any of the characters or story returning. Sex and Death 101 is more of a thematic sequel to Heathers (if you want to even call it that). I bring it up only because much of the film is going to remind you of the dream sequences in Heathers, and in a good way. Much of the tone of Sex and Death 101 is bizarre but inspired black comedy, and more than a few times I laughed as hard as "I love my dead gay son!" in this film.

    The catch, and there is one, is that the movie is slow to get going. It wasn't until probably twenty minutes in or so that Baker really settles into the role and the film gets fun. In the meantime, there's the weird presence of Mindy Cohn (The Facts of Life) as his assistant and a supporting cast that includes "oh! that guy" or "hey, why do I know her?". Everything seems a little forced early on and I really thought I wasn't going to like this movie.

    But the Heathers connection gets a little clearer when Winona Ryder enters the story as Death Knell, a not-acutally-a-serial-killer who beds sleazy guys and puts them in comas. Her first real scene in the movie, involving a newstand owner, hints at where Waters actually wants to go with this premise, and things only get better from there.

    Waters wrote and directed Sex and Death, so much like Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, this is his undiluted vision. Every step of the story is filled with double-backs, fake outs, tricksy narration, and some really clever in-camera trickery (watch that bar scene about three quarters of the way in). His writing is still as sharp as ever, and for the first time in years you'll hear an actually clever OJ Simpson joke. Oh, and Patton Oswalt is in the movie, and a lot more than I thought he would be.

    Ultimately what compels me to recommend the movie is that it frequently zigs when you expect it to zag. The writing is clever, the casting at times inspired, and even though it starts and ends a little shaky, there's more than enough in between that you haven't seen in a long time, if at all.

    Sex and Death 101 isn't going to blow you away like Heathers, but it will amuse you. I get why it didn't have larger press, because this is the kind of movie that's a little too weird for the Superhero Movie crowd and more subversive than the "quirky" comedy fans are interested in. If you're willing to let the film settle in, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise, which is exactly what we hope for in "lost" movies.

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