PORNOGRAPHY MAY NOT be art, but sophisticated pornography can be entertaining. That's more than you can say for Sunday Lovers, a made-for-television movie now playing by mistake at the Sack Charles.
Sunday Lovers wasn't really made for TV, that's just where it belongs, along with the rest of the current bik in-and-bounce craze. It is Hollywood's sleazy answer to such perennial favorites as "Three's Company" and "Charlie's Angels."
The golden rule of the situation comedy--simplicity for its own sake--also rules Sunday Lovers. Its creators follow a formula that you could find not only on television, but also in many of the Combat Zone's long-running hits: Four men, four countries, four separate half-hour accounts of their attempts to get laid.
Of course, the difference between the television and adult film versions is that on the tube, we see a bit of tush here, a lot of cleavage there, and generally hear all about other people "doing it." In the Combat Zone, films are usually light on plot and dialogue and heavy on explicit sex.
In attempting to combine the best of both genres, the writers of Sunday Lovers fail altogether and wind up with a product that wouldn't last a season on television, and would put the little old men in the long raincoats to sleep in 15 minutes.
Viewed as pornography, the film follows the guidelines of "good taste" too closely, as if it had been cleaned up by commercial sponsors and FCC censors. Afraid to confine its audience to triple-X, enthusiasts, its writers refuse to include more than a suggestion of sex. They offer a film without the most crucial ingredient, like a championship boxing match without a knockout punch or a presidential debate without John Anderson.
What we get are the dumb blonde stewardesses from California ("Whenever my boy-friend sees a bedroom, he gets so heavy"), the middle-aged' matron leaning toward nymphomania who chases other people's butlers ("Wouldn't you rather come work for me, Charles?"), and the horny American businessman ("We'll talk about the deal later. How about fixing me up with you secretary?").
We feel neither affection nor sympathy for most of these characters. Basically, all we feel is insulted, because the writers of Sunday Lovers evidently think most Americans are sexual perverts or mindless tube-heads who won't notice that they have just paid $4.50 to get into the theatre.
The four plots don't make us feel any better. They just help us begin to appreciate the gratitude we owe the folks at ABC--the pacesetters in the cutesy trash industry. Sunday Lovers' separate scenarios--each written and directed by a different person--so completely rely on television and porno flicks that we are not surprised when the producers fall back on cliched trick endings to escape from beneath the mountain of one-liners they have created. Instead of thinking, "My, wasn't that a hair-brained half-hour, completely devoid of artistic merit," we are supposed to say, "Gee, that really did have a point, didn't it?"
But we were right the first time. For example, Roger Moore plays a chauffeur, who masquerades as his English lord in order to pick up stewardesses and one evening he has a most distressing problem: two women and only enough energy to satisfy one. So he struggles to keep them apart, faking phone calls, eating two dinners, and generally running around like a chicken minus its head. 007 would not have been proud. The next morning, however, we find our big surprise: without an explanation, Moore has landed both women in the same bed. The three wake up; smiling.
ON THE FILM'S FINAL skit, the writers refer by name to a true pornographic movie. A middle-aged swinger, played by Lino Ventura, finds a dusty little black book, with entries that remind him of the adventures of his youth. While his wife is out of town, he decides to rediscover a few of his old flames. Unfortunately, the most he--or any of us--come up with are a few glowing cinders and a lot of smoke.
One woman from the past he does meet claims that she, not Linda Lovelace, is the "original Deep Throat." And she has the lung capacity to prove it, extinguishing a cigarette in one drag for emphasis. On her coffeetable are photographs of past lovers all of whom she has apparently felled with her oral ferocity. Our hero realizes it's time to exit when he sees a team snapshop of the entire local soccer club.
Just when it seems all of his luck has run out, the swinger finds that his next door neighbor, whose husband is also out of town, would like to get to know him much better. As he prepares to uncork the champagne for their private get-acquainted mixer, we begin to suspect a problem, and would you believe it--his wife comes home a day early.
Gene Wilder, who writes, directs, and stars in one quarter of Sunday Lovers, comes closest to generating some interest, playing a young divorcee who struggles to defeat his monumental impotence. But Wilder proves once again that Mel Brooks' waste basket is not a sufficient creative source for a movie, or even part of one. The problem is that in the one-dimensional logic of Sunday Lovers, in order for Wilder's character to be impotent, he must also be a freak. In fact, we learn that after his last premature ejaculation he attempted suicide and was committed to a mental institution.
Kathleen Quinlan, whose acting stands out among the cast's mediocre performances, almost saves Wilder's skit with a sensitive portrayal of the woman who seems willing to reform the deviant. Again the script intervenes. Quinlan is married and loves her husband. Surprisel She was really just out for her own physical satisfaction.
In its repetitive emphasis on the double entendre and its series of short stories, Sunday Lovers rips off the strategy of "Love American Style," an early 70s television show, which succeeded where this film fails. "Love American Style" managed to stimulate interest without pornographic sex or the recurrent tits-and-ass motif which dominates television today and which the writers of Sunday Lovers invoke as a last resort to save their movie.
"Love American Style" provided quick, imaginative, sometimes impossible situations; Sunday Lovers provides tedious, over-used plots. Where "Love American Style" used unusual idiosyncratic characters, Sunday Lovers employs expectable, almost banal personalities. Where "Love American Style" let us laugh at ourselves through its perceptive vision of the contemporary preoccupation with sex for its own sake, Sunday Lovers falls flat.
Most important, "Love American Style" invited our thought; Sunday Lovers takes the part of the teenage tease, who promises everything, but delivers nothing of importance.
While it succeeds in copying the from of typical situation comedies and pornographic films, Sunday Lovers totally lacks the substance of either. It could never be a plece of art, but if it had only replaced the fireworks of Love American Style with explicit sex, it might at least have been a bearable porno flick instead of a tiresome dud.