The problem with movies about lists (okay, maybe not Schindler’s List ) is that pacing and interest is too influenced by how many items remain on the main character’s register. In the new film from writer/director Daniel Waters, the list is an email containing an interminable 101 names. Twenty-nine represent all the women Roderick Blank (Simon Baker) has slept with in the past and, mysteriously, the remaining 72 are all the women he’ll sleep with in the future. It’s got the makings of a wicked little sex romp, but this dull, wordy comedy lacks visual punch and the laser-sharp satire that made the Waters-penned Heathers a mini-classic. Even the appearance of Heathers star Winona Ryder as an awkwardly-realized femme fatale won’t elevate box office above mediocre levels.
Waters hasn’t directed a film since 2001’s Happy Campers and it shows in his inability to decide which end of the ’70s cinematic spectrum he’s trying to emulate; its light blending of fantasy and reality (as in Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait ) or its darker tales of sexual liberation and consequence (take your pick). In the end, he tries for both and ends up with neither, but at least he avoids making the whole thing a frat-boy wet dream. Indeed, Roderick is a wealthy, reasonably mature, fast-food mogul whose bed-hopping days are behind him, having agreed to marry his girlfriend. When his feisty lesbian assistant (Mindy Cohn) reads the email containing the names of all the girls he’s loved before, he initially deems it a prank engineered by one of his blandly cast married buddies. But Roderick tracks the senders of the email down to an otherworldly all-white room occupied by three grey-suited oracles (including the hilarious Patton Oswalt) with godlike knowledge. We’re never quite sure who these oracles are (and we’re unsure if even Waters knows who they are), but they do know that Roderick was sent the email by mistake and there’s no taking it back. At first, Roderick questions the idea of having 72 more women to bed considering he’s engaged, but—in a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy—he dumps his fiancée for the joys of wanton sex.
Much like the Twilight Zone episode where a gangster goes to heaven and is handed everything he desires, only to discover he’s actually in hell, Roderick realizes the thrill of the hunt is what makes a successful conquest so satisfying. But even as he tires of effortless kills and falls truly in love with a veterinarian who is not on the list (Leslie Bibb), getting through the list is so monotonous that it’s a blessing when an unconscious Roderick is taken by 18 Catholic girls on a school bus. And with so many women who require boinking, Waters doesn’t skimp on the male fantasies. Roderick beds a porn star, a pair of lesbians, a stripper and a cougar played by Francis Fisher. But each notch on the bedpost becomes less and less satisfying and more and more a test whether destiny is predetermined or a train that lays its tracks as we go along.
Soon, all roads lead to the last name on the list, an oddly drawn, Goth-inspired femme fatale nicknamed Death Nell (Ryder, maintaining her youthful looks) who’s being pursued by police for sending numerous male victims into comas. Yet by the time Roderick and Death Nell have their climatic meeting, we’ve all but lost track of what Waters is trying to tell us. It’s also fair to argue that Waters has lost track, as well. Sex and Death 101 is a muddy, unconvincing fusion of black comedy and sex farce that’s neither as black or as sexy as it thinks it is.
Cast: Simon Baker and Winona Ryder
Director/Screenwriter: Daniel Waters
Producers: Cary Brokaw, Elizabeth Zox Friedman and Greg Little
Rating: R for strong sexual content and language
Running time: 116 min.
Release date: April 4 NY/LA