What's more disquieting than a sex farce that's not funny? According to Judge Bill Gibron, it's a sex farce without wit, style, prurience, or nakedness—otherwise known as this trauma of a Troma title.
A mélange-a-trois of laughs.
A crackpot professor (Irwin Corey, Stuck On You!) talks to us about the motion picture rating system. After describing potential sex acts, we end up with our first vice-ridden vignette.
A lonely man (Pat Paulsen, The Smothers Brothers Show) is desperate for some female companionship. When all his normal attempts fail, he seeks solace in the arms of an oversized novelty doll (Deborah Loomis, Dark Shadows). The salesman (Paul Dooley, Breaking Away) states that she's lifelike in every detail, which our nebbish learns the hard way. She's not interested in a little harmless humping—she wants a serious relationship. Thus we get the anti-titillating tale of "Norman and the Polish Doll."
The professor returns with a discussion of anatomy. Then it's on to our next story.
A blurb writer (Jerry Orbach, Law and Order) who's stuck on the word "vortex" calls upon his muse (George S. Irving, Up the Sandbox) to help him out. The muse shows up and believes that his block may be caused by his failed "conquests" from the past, so the pair travels back in time to a junior-high seduction gone sour and a freakish girl with a time fetish. Still, it's not helping. Then our scribe is assaulted by a gal he once knew long ago and it turns out she's having the same problems. Perhaps if they put their heads together, they can solve their mutual verbiage void.
The professor shows up again to ramble incoherently. We arrive at our last narrative.
When the daughter of the President of the United States (Zero Mostel, The Producers) is kidnapped by an angry Mafioso (Mostel again), the demands are very odd indeed. The commander-in-chief must make love to his wife (Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde) on national television or risk losing his child forever. After consulting with his staff, he decides to do it. The only problem is erectile. The Prez is impotent and his loins might let him down. He and the First Lady haven't had sex in a very, very long time. Should be some "Inaugural Ball," huh?
Foreplay wants to be a wacky, irreverent sex comedy. What it ends up being is Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex without Woody Allen's rapier wit. This dated demonstration of flesh as farce is about as comic as a bone spur and about as easily explained. Originally viewed as a Playboy After Dark discussion of humans and their penchant for the prurient, it's a cinematic experiment that simply reeks of a '60s hangover. The narrative is bloated on free love, the acting is arch and over the top, and the insights into human biology and libido are about as perceptive as a prepubescent boy with a copy of Mad Magazine under his mattress. There is a real effort here to be hip, happening, and totally with the times, but this bawdy, buffoonish burlesque makes baggy-pants comics seem absolutely cutting-edge. If ogling naked breasts and hearing heretofore forbidden words in a mainstream movie is your idea of scintillating social satire, by all means, give this moldy oldie a spin. Just don't expect sophistication, cleverness, or intelligence to come careening off the home theater screen.
Let's face it—any movie that places that unfunny question mark Professor Irwin Corey (again, did his shtick ever induce laughter?) in a prominent role is unsure of its stance. Our opening vignette has one redeeming factor and her name is Deborah Loomis. Quite a knockout with her '70s supermodel body (though she's got more chest than most of her Me Decade peers), we see lots of her lovely lady lumps during the course of the story, but Pat Paulsen is one-note and mind numbingly bland as the null guy looking for nookie and Paul Dooley is given nothing to do. If you think an oral sex joke aimed at an old lady is laugh-out-loud hysterical, you may enjoy this jokeless wonder. The same goes for our second segment. Jerry Orbach was a brilliant actor, but he is hobbled with a script that makes little sense and his co-star, the heavily accented George S. Irving, is one additional vowel away from a total ethnic slur. That sex is seen as something stifling creativity and masking anxiety speaks volumes for this movie's hidden motives. This isn't a celebration of fornication and copulation; it's a smutty paperback in an airport bookstore accented with a couple of carnal quips and it feels as tawdry and tasteless as it sounds.
If there is a single reason to watch this film, though, it is Zero Mostel. One of the greatest stage actors ever, Mostel was never "modest" on the big screen. He was larger than life and his performances carried the seal of sensation, be they in bit parts (The Front) or in timeless starring roles (there is only ONE Max Bialystock, people). His dual function in the final vignette—playing the President of the United States and a crazed Mafioso—is the very definition of a tour de force. Actually, a better way to describe it would be as a tour de force of nature. Mostel manhandles the camera, holding it in his mighty grip until he's done mugging and mincing, and then he simply lets it go. His caricature of an Italian mobster is both well observed and completely cartoonish, while his pathetic President (an obvious commentary on Nixon) is filled with hate and racial epithets. Thankfully, Estelle Parsons was brought in to play the role of First Lady (original actress Barbara Harris left after the first day of shooting) and she matches Mostel's method, gesture-for-gesture. The story itself is stupid—the First Couple never really "do it," so to speak—and the send-up consistently falls flat. But as a testament to one of our acting greats, Foreplay is worth watching just to see the spectacular Zero aim for the cheap seats and give it all the gluttonous gusto he can. In fact, his efforts here are the sole reason Foreplay has any validity at all.
Sure, some of the directors involved (John G. Avildsen and Bruce Malmuth) went on to distinguish themselves with other projects, while the third (Robert McCarty) just kind of stopped working, but this does not mean we have some manner of lost classic here. Indeed, Foreplay (the title is derived from the sex act as well as the original concept that there would be four stories here—one was eventually cut) can't hold a candle to the TV treat Love, American Style or other outrageous relics like If You Don't Stop…You'll Go Blind and Can I Do It 'Till I Need Glasses. The tone is too timid, the sense of spoof too obvious (the Mostel segment) or oblivious (everything else). Maybe when it was first filmed, it all seemed scandalous and scatological. But in our modern vice vernacular, where strippers are stars and hardcore queens reign supreme, this is like watching a Puritan's porno collection. Though sex is a timeless topic, there is nothing classic about this crass dose of dumbness. Foreplay is fore-gettable.
Troma, trying to make a molehill out of some mule dung, has done a decent job of delivering this title to DVD. The 1.33:1 full-screen image is old but acceptable and the Dolby Digital Mono audio is clear and crisp. As for extras, company chief Lloyd Kaufman is a good friend of Avildsen (they worked together on Joe and Rocky, among others) and he gives his pal a chance to add his thoughts about the film on a full-length audio commentary. The Oscar winner is joined by Bruce Malmuth (director of Nighthawks and The Man Who Wasn't There), writer David Odell (writer of The Dark Crystal and Nate and Hayes), and Kaufman himself, and the conversation is really a trip back in time. Picking up like they just made the movie yesterday, this foursome argues anecdotally about the concept, the scripting, and the performances. Mostel comes out the best, as no one can undermine his efforts. We are also privy to a set of interviews, including one with MIA director McCarty, Parsons (who is very forthcoming about her love scene with Zero), Professor Irwin Corey (who lays down some anti-Troma smack), producers Carl Gurevich and Benni Korzen, and the always witty Paul Dooley. Kaufman shows up to present his typical insane introduction, and we get a 10-minute clip of the commentary recording session, where we see the participants in all the genial glory. Along with the typical Troma merchandising and trailers, this is a fairly full package for an incredibly minor movie.
T&A may sell shaving cream and home radon kits but it can't make uninspired comedy any more hilarious. Foreplay is a pretty pathetic appetizer of amusing amorous antics. Thankfully, it ends before the main (inter)course is served.
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Scales of Justice
• Full-length Audio Commentary with directors John G. Avildsen and Bruce Malmuth, writer David Odell, and Troma Chief Lloyd Kaufman
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