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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Eden' Creates a Wholesome S&M World

October 14, 1994|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The advance publicity for "Exit to Eden," loosely based on the Anne Rice novel about S&M, might lead you to expect a torrid kinkfest. But not to worry. Despite its free-love trappings, Hollywood has always been a deeply conservative place. No matter how many clamps and tweezers and harnesses are on display in its movies, no matter how much epidermis is evidenced, sexual wayfarers are routinely punished and true love touted.

"Exit to Eden" is the kind of erotic comedy that Doris Day might have snuggled into. It's such a dopey fizzle that it's kind of fascinating: Did the filmmakers really think they could get away with making a wholesome movie about the S&M scene? Director Garry Marshall seems to specialize in making denatured movies about red-hot subjects--remember "Pretty Woman"? Like that film, "Exit to Eden" gambols across sexual minefields before finally plumping for true-blue romanticism. Nothing in it is convincing--not even the whips.

The comic premise--not without possibilities--has L.A. cops Sheila Kingston (Rosie O'Donnell) and Fred Lavery (Dan Aykroyd) going undercover at a tropical resort that caters to S&M fanciers. (Sheila is assigned her own "slave," played by Sean O'Bryan in the film's only funny performance.) They're trying to entrap a pair of diamond smugglers (Stuart Wilson and Iman) on the trail of Elliott (Paul Mercurio), a photojournalist with incriminating evidence against them. Running Club Eden is Mistress Lisa (Dana Delany), who develops a dewy-eyed, against-the-rules hankering for Elliott.

*

Imagine what Pedro Almodovar could have done with this! But, then again, he might not have had the gumption to depict Club Eden as a pastel-colored consciousness-raising fantasy island for squeaky-clean libertines. Marshall and screenwriter Deborah Amelon are far bigger teases than anyone in their cast: They set up an erotic roundelay and then run for cover. This is the kind of sex comedy that Dr. Joyce Brothers would endorse. (In a sense, she already has--she makes a cameo appearance.)

*

O'Donnell huffs and puffs her way through her Sgt. Joe Friday-ish role while Aykroyd acts aggravatingly strait-laced. (She rankles him by constantly updating him on her ovulation cycles and feminine hygiene problems--perhaps the worst running gag in any movie so far this year.) It might have been funny if these two had been sorely tempted into kinkdom but the film never really explores their psyches. They don't seem to have any. Elliott and Mistress Lisa don't fare much better, despite a lot of pop psych blather about how love means losing control. This might be funny if that lack of control were touted in an S&M context, but, no, the filmmakers just want us to know that being in love means being vulnerable--without the leather outerwear, that is.

Since the Hollywood romantic comedy is still reeling from the smudging of sex roles in the past two decades, "Exit to Eden" might have worked as a free-for-all compendium of '90s love play. (All entrants to Club Eden are given blood tests-- whew. ) But there's so little erotic heat in this movie that it gives sex a bad name.

Now that's an achievement.

* MPAA rating: R, for nudity and sex-related scenes. Times guidelines: It includes S&M trappings and one mildly graphic sex scene.

'Exit to Eden'

Dana Delany: Lisa

Paul Mercurio: Elliott

Rosie O'Donnell: Sheila

Dan Aykroyd: Fred

A Savoy Pictures presentation of an Alex Rose/Henderson production. Directors Garry Marshall. Executive producers Edward K. Milkis and Nick Abdo. Screenplay by Deborah Amelon and Bob Brunner. Cinematographer Theo Van De Sande. Editor David Finfer. Costumes Ellen Mirojnick. Music Patrick Doyle. Production design Peter Jamison. Set decorator Linda Spheeris. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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