Zandalee

1991, Movie, R, 100 mins

Review

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There's a pretty good movie that slips by in dribs and drabs between fevered couplings in ZANDALEE, a New Orleans-set erotic thriller with far more eros than thrills.

Zandalee Martin (Erika Anderson) is married to Thierry Martin (Judge Reinhold), who has abandoned his dreams of being a poet in order take over his family's communications empire after his father's death. Anything but a business shark, Thierry has sold out to a corrupt new owner who's reduced him to a figurehead vice president, while his poetry has languished. The reversals in his life have left him frustrated and, more important to the plot, impotent, despite Zandalee's best efforts to restoke his smoldering erotic embers. Wifely loyalty battles gnawing needs within Zandalee when Thierry's rakish childhood chum, painter Johnny Collins (Nicolas Cage), reenters Thierry's life as an employee of his firm. Unlike Thierry, Johnny has single-mindedly pursued his own artistic ambitions, barely showing up for the job he's taken only to support his painting. Sensing Zandalee's frustration and vulnerability on the home front, Johnny moves in, first seducing, then--not part of the game plan--falling in love with her. Zandalee abandons herself to lust at first, at one memorable point making love to Johnny perched atop a churning washing machine while Thierry hosts a dinner party in the next room. She also makes love to Johnny in a church confessional, in his loft during lunch hours--in fact, pretty much anytime and anywhere the lighting and camera angles are right for the occasion. But, to Johnny's frustration, Zandalee never abandons her true love for Thierry. Realizing that, despite the affair, Zandalee has remained faithful to him in her fashion, Thierry turns over a new leaf, re-commiting himself to his love for her. But Johnny will not be brushed off that easily, following Thierry and Zandalee on their bayou "second honeymoon" and bringing about the film's double-whammy climax.

Under New Zealander Sam Pillsbury's no-nonsense direction, ZANDALEE never strays into either the softcore silliness of WILD ORCHID or the mannered pretentiousness of HENRY AND JUNE. But neither does it ever reach the torrid heights of Bertolucci's LAST TANGO IN PARIS, still the true benchmark of mainstream erotica. The cast is generally not a problem in this case. It's rather the script, by co-producer Mari Kornhauser, that never quite finds a dramatic focus to match the intensity of its sexuality. Among its better ideas are having Johnny emerge as more of a villain than a liberator and Thierry more of a sympathetic victim than a repressed monster. But the ideas never take compelling dramatic shape. Also, curiously for a film written by a woman, Zandalee is never defined much beyond her role as a carnal prize in the conflict between Johnny and Thierry.

Nicolas Cage is probably the only actor working right now who can play an artist, replete with bohemian goatee, without looking like a complete fool. But his performance is also as subtle as it is typically uninhibited, hinting at levels to his character, and the story, that the film never gets around to exploring. Anderson, though hindered by her evident inexperience, is remarkably at ease in the altogether and, as a result, manages to endow her character with a basic realism, if little depth, making her an actress to watch in the future. (For those who keep track of such things, Anderson spends approximately one-third of the film's running time in various degrees of undress and about a third of that time in sexual congress.) Reinhold is the closest the cast has to a weak link. Working to expand his image beyond the light comedy leads he's played in films like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and OFF BEAT, he shows more promise here than genuine ability, performing capably but never quite bringing the gravity his character needs. The supporting cast, however, from Viveca Lindfors to singer Aaron Neville (looking like he's just stepped off a concert stage for his role as Jack, a sympathetic bartender), is uniformly solid and the French Quarter is as sensually alluring as ever. As cinema, ZANDALEE is more intriguing for what it attempts to do than for what it actually achieves. But, as softcore eroticism, it's a better-than-average date movie for those hot video nights at home. (Substance abuse, profanity, sexual situations, nudity.) leave a comment

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