Originally produced as part of HBO's America Undercover series of exposÚs and mini-documentaries, Cathouse delivers precisely what its title promises: a peek into one of Nevada's most successful brothels. The Bunny Ranch is one of the oldest cathouses in all of Nevada, partially because prostitution is entirely legal in this part of the country -- but mainly because they run their ship smartly and efficiently ... and with one hell of a mark-up! (The Bunny Ranch babes generally demand $1,000 for one hour's worth of the proverbial "whoopee!")
I'll admit that, at first, the viewer gets a vicarious thrill by touring the brothel, meeting the ladies, and chuckling at all the horny men who wander through the front door. But director Patti Kaplan might have made a better documentary if she hadn't employed the methods of a marketing director. Dennis Hof, owner and operator of The Bunny Ranch, makes for a perfectly seasoned and experienced pitch-man, and his bubbly employees do all they can to plaster a sunny face onto the oh-so-glamorous world of professional whoredom -- so why does Kaplan not dig a little deeper into the truth behind paid sex?
The first client we meet is a 22-year-old virgin who is accompanied to the brothel by his mother. Any worthwhile documentarian would get the mother alone for 45 seconds and ask "Yeah, so, um, why are you here with your son and why are you giving him 1,000 of your dollars to have sexual intercourse with a total stranger??" Nope, this creepy little issue is just brushed aside in favor of the next sex-hungry client.
Two brothers come in to share a gal, but they're afraid they might actually touch one another in the process. A married couple celebrate their anniversary by double-teaming another of the Bunny Ranchers, while an alleged "high roller" cannot get Visa to O.K. his $15,000 hooker extravaganza...
And on and on. All the girls are happy and well-paid, while every single client heads home with a big smile and an empty wallet. It's all so precious that it makes me want to run right out and become the world's biggest whore!
But not really. That the filmmakers never once choose to cover both ends of the equation says a whole lot about Cathouse. Everyone's sunny disposition begins to feel more than a little false and forced as the footage unfolds; these gals just love being hookers! Apparently it really is just the greatest job in the world. And while I'm certainly not judging these ladies based solely on their fake smiles and ever-jiggly sales pitches, I suspect this documentary would have proven a whole lot more insightful if it didn't seem like a 55-minute paid advertisement for Dennis Hoff's Bunny Ranch! (Their unintentionally ironic motto? "We never close.")
Video: Full Frame and shot on video, though the picture quality looks just as good as it did when I taped the thing off HBO and watched it 83 times in two weeks. (OK, 86.)
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, English or Spanish -- because horniness knows no language barrier.
Extras: Can't get enough of Dennis "Don't ever call me a pimp" Hof? Well here's 3.5 extra minutes of wit and wisdom from a guy made wealthy through the dual power of real estate and rented vagina.
I have no problem with prostitutes, honest. Without professionals such as the ones displayed in Cathouse, how could anyone ever organize a half-decent bachelor party? But if I'm going to sit down and watch a documentary about the world's oldest profession, I'd like to see a little bit of the naked truth along with the naked skin. Aside from a rather long promotional video, the mini-doc also feels like a piece of prostitution-recruitment propaganda. And that's just kinda creepy.