SKIN DEEP - DVD review

...a sporadically amusing, mainly tiresome television sitcom spiced up to R-rated, sex-farce status for the big screen.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Ten years earlier, in 1979, writer/director Blake Edwards had scored a monster hit with the sex comedy "10." In 1989 he figured to duplicate the feat with "Skin Deep." What he didn't have, unfortunately, were Dudley Moore, Bo Derek, or a decent script. He had only John Ritter, a likable, TV kind of guy but hardly someone around whom you would want to build a major motion picture. The result is a sporadically amusing, mainly tiresome television sitcom spiced up to R-rated, sex-farce status for the big screen. It hardly seems worth the effort.

Ritter plays a fellow so obnoxious it's hard to feel any sympathy for him. On the one hand, you'd think his character, Zach Hutton, would have it made. He's a famous, prosperous, middle-aged writer, "a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and internationally acclaimed author" in the words of his mistress. He's also a womanizing, sex-addicted drunk with writer's block. When we first meet him he's being caught by the mistress, Angie (Denise Crosby), in an affair with a hairdresser. Angie presses a revolver to his head and announces, "I'll be fair about this. Community property: I keep the gun; you get the bullets." It's one of the few clever lines in the film. Then Zach's wife, Alex (Alyson Reed), comes in, sees her husband in bed with the hairdresser and the mistress with the gun in her hand and throws Zach out on his ear.

Despondent, Zach drinks. Which he continues to do for almost the full 101 minutes of screen time. He tells his tale, and thereby to us, to two people: his bartender and his psychiatrist. The bartender, Barney (Vincent Gardenia), is by far the more interesting of the two. He seems to be Zach's only real friend. We can't count Zach's lawyer, Jake (Joel Brooks), because he gets paid to take care of him. There's also Zach's agent, Sparky (Peter Donat), but he's so snooty he isn't anybody's friend.

So, what exactly is Zach's problem that leads him to womanize and drink? Maybe it's fear of growing old. He's forty-two and he's watched his youth, and most of his talents, slip away. He says he wants more than anything to be settled down, but he also wants to make love to every girl in the country. The result for the viewer is a movie with little plot but, rather, a series of comic sexual episodes loosely connected by Zach's wandering eye as he goes from one female to another, most of them young enough to his daughters.

Among other things, one young lady, Molly (Julianne Phillips), burns his house down for his being such a jerk. I was ready to applaud. Another woman, Lonnie (Raye Hollitt), a muscle builder with the physique of an Arnold Schwarzenegger, almost kills him making love. The movie would have been over sooner. And so it goes.

Zach plays a lot of old Cole Porter tunes on the piano, and, regrettably, he insists on singing them, too, his voice starting to grate on a person within a few bars. He's lecherous and largely successful in his pursuits, but it's hard to understand what all these young women see in him. Ritter is not an unpleasant fellow to look at, but he's hardly the handsome leading man we usually associate with lady-killers. Maybe that is supposed to be part of the joke. He's so ordinary, yet everywhere he goes these beautiful creatures fall all over him. Nor does Ritter look his forty-two years (although he actually was close to this age when he made the picture). He wears a beard to seem older, but there's no hiding his youthful appearance. If the director had wanted to portray a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis, why not have hired an actor who looked the age? I suppose Edwards wanted it both ways: a midlife crisis in a man who is really still a child at heart. But if that's the case, then why the beard? It's an interesting, if flawed, idea.

Anyway, the movie is not very funny. Zach accidentally squirts himself in the eye with breath spray, he mistakenly goes to a formal, black-tie party wearing an Arabian Nights costume, that sort of thing. The movie's one, big claim to fame is a brief segment involving fluorescent condoms, their luminescent outlines bouncing around a pitch-black room like glowing light sabers in some demented "Star Wars" parody. It's a cute scene in an otherwise forgettable film filled mostly with endless, banal talk.

The screen is wide enough, the image presented in a 2.09:1 ratio spread across a normal television. But considering that Warner Brothers claim that this is a new digital transfer, the quality isn't quite what I expected. The reproduction is slightly blurred, with a somewhat grainy appearance on close inspection. Colors are sufficiently vivid, but they are not quite natural; the picture never fully comes to life. Part of the problem is that there's a thin veneer over the picture much of the time, and many flesh tones are too soft, too glossy, or too orangy in color to be true. If this were a videotape, I'd say it was a pretty good transfer, but we've come to expect more from a DVD.

The film's original stereo soundtrack has been remixed in Dolby 5.1, and again the results are mixed. Granted, there is plenty of surround information fed to the rear speakers, but it comes up too much of a good thing. The musical backgrounds, especially, are awash in rear-channel reverberation, starting with the movie's opening-credits song, "Falling Out of Love," by Ivan Neville. It sounds like it was recorded in an echo chamber, which it probably was, but the added ambiance only intensifies the issue. Then, when it comes to dialogue, voices sound a bit hard, sometimes harsh, and a mite gritty. Nor does the audio have much range. Oddly, the sound either seems to improve as the film goes on, or I was getting used to its misbehavior after a while because it did appear better by the last half hour. In any case, the audio is hardly breathtaking by any means.

There's hardly anything to write home about in the bonus department, either. The only features are a list of film highlights from the cast and crew, twenty-five scene selections, and theatrical trailers for this film and six other WB DVDs from Morgan Creek Productions. English is the only spoken language provided, but English, French, and Spanish are offered as subtitles.

Parting Shots:
Blake Edwards has always been a spotty director. When he's dead on, as he was in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Days of Wine and Roses," "The Pink Panther," and "A Shot in the Dark," he is very, very good. When he's not on target, as in "Skin Deep," he is very, very bad. In fact, "Skin Deep" is possibly his worst effort to date. It's certainly nothing I found of any interest and nothing I could recommend to a friend. Instead, for more rewarding Edwards' material (in addition to the aforementioned on-target items), I'd suggest "Victor/Victoria" and "The Great Race," both recently released from WB on DVD. The comedy in "Skin Deep" is little more than skin deep, and the movie's R rating for nudity, profanity, and sexual situations hardly warrants our attention.


Film Value