Anchor Bay // 2007 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // July 18th, 2008
One man. One list. 101 Women.
According to screenwriter Daniel Waters (Heathers), the original title of his second directorial effort was Totally F*cked!. Makes sense.
Roderick Blank (Simon Baker, Land Of The Dead) is a successful executive for a fast food restaurant called Swallows. He's a self-described Lothario who is about to settle down and marry Fiona Wormwood (Julie Bowen, Boston Legal). However, his life turns upside down with the arrival of an email listing every single woman he's had -- and eventually will have -- sex with. Thus begins a sexual odyssey as Roderick decides to take advantage of the list, meeting all the women and crossing off each name as he goes along.
Meanwhile, a mysterious Black Widow-type killer named Death Nell (Winona Ryder, A Scanner Darkly) has become "the worst thing to happen to men, but the best thing to happen to the media." Evidently, she's seeking out men who've mistreated and used women for their own sexual pleasure, and puts them into comas after initial seductions. Could she have a meeting set with Roderick in the near future?
It's been almost two decades since Daniel Waters wrote Heathers, a masterpiece that has become one of the biggest cult pictures of all time. Since then, his major studio efforts (including the massive flop Hudson Hawk and the dumb-but-enjoyable Demolition Man) didn't exactly enhance his career. His directorial debut, 2001's Happy Campers, never got a proper theatrical release. Waters doesn't apologize for his prolonged absences, explaining he's more of a viewer than a filmmaker. When he finished writing Sex And Death 101, he didn't expect it to be made because it took risks even for an independent film.
Luckily, we now get to reap the rewards of his latest effort. If anyone knows how to write delicious black comedy, it's Waters, and Sex And Death 101 is his best film since Heathers. Granted, the film is hardly perfect; still, it has enough zest, smarm, and spice to make it an enjoyable oddity. With Waters at the helm, you should know that subtlety is not going to be on the syllabus. Yet, I was taken aback at how unpredictable and twisted the whole thing was; with Waters having so many tricks up his sleeve, it becomes great fun to watch Roderick and his sexually-saturated situation.
His delightful cast seems to be having fun too. Australian Simon Baker gives Roderick just the right amount of believability as this shallow loser who lets the little head think for the big head. Judge David Johnson makes a good point in his review of the standard DVD in questioning whether we should root for Baker's character. Being a comedy, we are not really supposed to care about him anyway, but he is ingratiating enough for us to laugh at his actions and mannerisms. As for Ryder, it's a pleasure to watch her again after being knocked off the box office pedestal because of a certain shoplifting incident. As Death Nell, she remains incredibly sexy and appealing, and I like how Waters refers to her as one of the last to possess an Audrey Hepburn/Gloria Swanson quality.
Complimenting their recent release of Heathers: 20th High School Reunion Edition, Anchor Bay gives us Sex And Death 101 on both standard DVD and Blu-ray. Visually, we have a 1.78:1, AVC MPEG-4 print in 1080p encode that is spectacular from start to finish. Despite the fact this was a low budget effort, there is sharp clarity, fantastic flesh tones, and hardly any grain present. Even more surprising are two awesome audio tracks: PCM and Dolby Digital Surround 5.1; both serve their purpose beautifully, giving a supersonic boost to Rolfe Kent's (Legally Blonde) energetic score. Subtitles are present in English and Spanish.
The extras are not substantial, but all are worthwhile. The real meat is found in Daniel Waters' zippy, incredibly entertaining commentary track. Some may feel he talks too fast; however, I loved every second of it. He covers everything from casting and shooting to writing and directing, hardly ever stopping to catch a breath. Film buffs will also get a kick out of his endless, largely hidden references to other movies and television shows; the list of names are in fact all female characters from other movies, including Vertigo and The Sure Thing (two of my absolute favorites). The best bit involves a double reference to the Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, which I didn't see coming despite the fact I had seen the film well over a dozen times. Also included bonus-wise, are a featurette ("101 Perversions") and a theatrical trailer. (Footnote: Waters indicates in the commentary there were some deleted scenes, but Anchor Bay neglected to include them.)
Sex And Death 101's primary problem is it's uneven, both comically and dramatically. The tone of the picture shifts haphazardly more often than not, with laughs ranging from colorful to vulgar. Some elements made me cringe and while I won't discuss them here to give away too much, let's just say this film, like Heathers, is definitely not for all tastes.
Unless you are a die-hard fan of Waters' work, I would advise a rental before purchasing. Sex And Death 101 is a very good film that flirts with greatness, yet I highly recommend it anyway.
The film and Waters are found not guilty, with kudos to Anchor Bay for delivering a solid Blu-ray package.
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Daniel Waters
* "101 Perversions"
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site
* Original DVD Verdict Review