Judge Patrick Bromley is a lion tamer.
It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your mother is?
Cougars, Inc. is the most frustrating kind of bad movie: the kind that didn't really have to be bad. It has production value and some ok-to-decent talent involved, and writer/director K. Asher Levin does not appear to be without talent. Trouble is, either Levin couldn't figure out what movie he wanted to make or distributor Lionsgate couldn't figure out what movie they wanted to release. The result is a mess that isn't worth anyone's time.
Kyle Gallner (A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)) stars as Sam, a rebellious teenager who's been kicked out of school after school. When he arrives at Moore Prep in California, he forms a unique bond with the school's unorthodox headmaster (Jim Belushi, Red Heat), who takes a personal interest in Sam's success. Unfortunately, Sam's resources have dried up and his former Playmate mom can no longer afford the tuition. Just then, inspiration strikes: Sam shacks up for a one-night stand with a lonely housewife (Kathryn Morris, Minority Report), who feels for his plight and leaves him a check in the morning. Just like that, the idea for Cougars, Inc. is born: Sam and his friends launch an escort service in which young men collect money for sleeping with older ladies (including Denise Richards of The Third Wheel), the proceeds from which go towards paying Sam's tuition. All is going well until Sam begins a relationship with a young lady named Courtney (Modern Family's Sarah Hyland) who is totally unaware of his double life.
Don't be fooled by the movie's title: this isn't really a film about "cougars" (a term I loathe), or even really sex at all. Yes, it tries to shoehorn some of these topics in, but has nothing to offer about either one. Movies like Risky Business and, to a (much) lesser extent, The Girl Next Door—both of which appear to be an inspiration for this movie—had attitudes about their characters' descent into the sex industry. Cougars, Inc. has no such cynical comedy or satirical bent. In fact, I'm not sure what the movie wants to say at all: that you shouldn't prostitute yourself (unless you need to pay for private school)? That peer pressure is bad? The boys could have started a carwash for everything that Cougars, Inc. has to say about prostitution (or "cougars," for that matter). But, then the film would be missing its lascivious "hook" and terrible title that someone adopted in the hopes of roping in viewers hoping for a sex comedy.
Cougars, Inc. works better as a coming-of-age movie, even though the main character doesn't really come of age. In fact, he hardly changes at all, mostly because he's not really presented as a bad guy to begin with—just misunderstood. Even in that respect, Cougars, Inc. keeps hobbling itself with terrible narrative devices that destroy any momentum the movie might have otherwise built up. Here's a suggestion: when you want to establish that your two main characters have fallen in love—and the rest of your movie hinges on that plot development—it's best to show us the scenes between the two in which that happens, not just gloss over it with some still photos and on-screen text. Much of the major exposition in Cougars, Inc. takes place via text (done in the form of notebook scribbles and "chapter headings"), either because the film was severely trimmed down (it runs just over 80 minutes) and required these shortcuts or because K. Asher Levin doesn't really understand the mechanics of storytelling.
The movie is almost (almost, but still definitely not) worth seeing just for the performance by Jim Belushi—and, yes, that's a sentence I never thought I'd write. With the exception of his choice to have the character play harmonica during office hours (you can almost hear Belushi pulling the director to the side before a take: "Say, I've got an idea…"), Belushi is warm and likable and plays a character I haven't seen in very many movies before—or, at least, an interesting variation on a character I've seen dozens of times. His actions don't always make sense and are often at the convenience of the plot, but that's a script issue, not a performance one. His scenes with Gallner are the best in the film. The rest of the performances are all over the place: Gallner is sleepy-eyed and brooding, but not much else, while Sarah Hyland works overtime to be cute and quirky (and is utterly out of her depth when required to do any dramatic stuff). Kathryn Morris does her very best to create a character where there isn't one, and manages to give some sense of sadness and loneliness despite a screenplay that isn't interested in her feelings. Denise Richards' scenes, thankfully, are limited.
Lionsgate's Blu-ray release of Cougars, Inc. is a mixed bag as well. The 2.35:1, full 1080p image shows some detail and has no visible defects or flaws (it appears to have been shot on HD video), but looks ultimately flat. There's no depth to the image and nothing engaging about the visual presentation, but there's also not a whole lot to complain about. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track fares slightly better, with a decent mix of dialogue and music; though Cougars, Inc. isn't called upon to do much in the audio department, it delivers competently.
Writer/director Levin sits down with stars Gallner and Kathryn Morris for a commentary track, but even fans of the movie (and I'm not sure who they are) won't find much to enjoy here. Levin is enthusiastic enough, but Gallner and Morris admit early on that this is the first time they're seeing the film; as such, they don't have a lot to offer, information wise, and instead spend their time either silently watching the movie or laughing at some banter that isn't all that funny. It's a somewhat self-indulgent track (and since, by definition, almost all commentaries are, the fact that this one stands out as such is saying something), and makes for a pretty tough listen. The other bonus features aren't much better: a single deleted scene that repeats information we already have, a trailer, and a terrible featurette called "Cougar 101," in which douchebags on the street pontificate on what a cougar is. This, more than anything, feels like Lionsgate really trying to push the "cougar" angle.
Cougars, Inc.: competently made, disjointed, and hollow. It's a movie for no one.
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