Every weekend during my freshman year of college, my roommates and I without fail would pile into a car and drive to Moovies,
jaunt directly to the Erotic Thriller section (given a more harmless title that I can't quite remember offhand), and grab a
couple of videos. It was the best we could do as we didn't have access to Cinemax on campus, but I doubt I'll ever forget our ritual of
placing bets on how far into each movie it would be until a buxom blonde dropped her top. I've shied away from the genre for
the past five years or so, but with Zebra Lounge, apparently softcore suspense is again clawing its way from obscurity.
Quite a bit has changed since I last popped Scorned into my VCR; Shannon Tweed, inexplicably, is nowhere to be found,
and Zebra Lounge is gutsy enough to avoid wearing its erotic thriller label on its sleeve, lacking the words "desire",
"lies", "sin", or "night" anywhere in the title. If not for the vaguely provocative cover art, I'd be unsure what
prospective viewers would expect based on its name alone. Disappointingly, there isn't a single zebra, let alone a lounge of
For verisimilitude or perhaps a sizeable payment of product placement cash, Zebra Lounge takes place in Chicago, where
there is, in fact, a nightclub of the same name. Wendy and Alan Barnet (Brandy Ledford and Cameron Daddo, respectively) have been married for over a decade, and now in their mid-'30s, are wholly unable to rekindle their sexual flame. Counciling sessions and how-to books have
proven entirely futile, but a trip to an adult toy shop inspires them to place an ad in a swinger's magazine. After screening a box
chock full of replies from demented prospects, only Louise and Jack Bauer (Kristy Swanson and Stephen Baldwin) stand out as
meeting their standards. After a brief and hardly title-worthy rendezvous at the Zebra Lounge, Wendy and Alan opt to back out, but quickly find themselves sucked in by the more experienced couple. A night of partner-swappin' achieves the desired effect, and the Barnets are more than willing to put the Bauers and those sorts of sexual escapades behind them. Jack and Louise haven't had nearly enough, though. Their intrusions start off as curious, such as severely disrupting a birthday party to which they weren't invited, but the...well-intentioned Bauers are soon knocking off Alan's competition for vice-president, moving in next door, and all varieties of other madcap wackiness. The Bauers, hellbent on a long-term sexual relationship with their reluctant neighbors, have a stranglehold on the Barnets, leading to...well, if you've seen a single one of these sorts of movies, you should have the drill committed to memory.
I am fully aware that erotic thriller hasn't built such a fiercely loyal audience on solid plot alone, but enough time has passed since I
last dipped my toes into the genre's muddy waters that I've forgotten how insubstantial these movies are. The inane dialogue
is laughable, and not intentionally so. At one point, a suspicious Jack offers that Poorly Written Script© mainstay, "I
have a bad feeling about this." Wendy responds by muttering, "then why don't you feel these" as she unzips her top. The plot
is nearly non-existent, and like similar entries, just some meager way to interconnect the more prurient sequences. (Yes,
"prurient" is my word of the day.) Even these moments aren't really worth the price of entry, as they're relatively tame and
poorly dispersed throughout the 90 minute runtime. It took a fair amount of effort to restrain myself from skipping forward
during the excruciating advancement of what passes for a plot. Sexual encounters are generally obscured in some way or given
the afternoon soap opera panty-love treatment. Anyone hoping Kristy Swanson would bare her considerable assets will be
disappointed, and the only nudity comes from former Penthouse Pet Brandy Ledford and (shudder) some very unwelcome shots of Stephen Baldwin's behind. Actually, Baldwin is absolutely hysterical in Zebra Lounge, even though his character is presumably intended to be unsettling and terrifying. His facial expressions are invariably doofy, and at least once during every scene in
which Jack appeared, I couldn't help but burst out into laughter. Some of his angles, expressions, and actions in the pool scene are simply
without equal. Aside from Baldwin's...baldwin-ness, the pool scene also contains a few brief moments of Swanson ramming her
tongue a few inches down Ledford's throat. I'm admittedly a sucker for attractive women kissing, but these painfully brief
seconds aren't nearly enough to redeem the remainder of this schlockfest. If extended another fifteen or twenty minutes, that
would be an entirely different situation. This sort of mediocrity might have been passable during the glut of similarly
poorly conceived thrillers in the mid-'90s, but the near-total lack of plot or suspense coupled with tame love scenes doesn't
amount to much at all nowadays.
Video: Practically unheard of for a new release from a major studio, Zebra Lounge is letterboxed, but not
enhanced for widescreen televisions. The presentation is decent enough, primarily limited by the source material. Light film
grain is often present, particularly in more dimly lit portions, though it is only excessive in a handful of shots in the
movie's final moments. Though there is some infrequent softness, the image is by and large relatively crisp and clear. As is
to be expected from such a recent film, print flaws and speckling are not a concern, nor are there any assorted nasty artifacts
or haloing that leapt out from the screen. The overall quality is indicative of a relatively low-budget effort and shouldn't surprise anyone with the slightest familiarity with these sorts of movies.
Audio: Though this DVD release of Zebra Lounge sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, it might as well have been flat
stereo. The rear channels are almost entirely limited to reinforcing the score, but there is precious little in the way of
split surrounds and discrete effects. The German techno-lite score gives the LFE a workout, rumbling throughout, though
remaining strangely idle during an explosion and offering little more than a creak as a car tumbles down a steep incline.
Dialogue is generally clear but sounds a bit pinched at times, particularly early on. I'm hard pressed to come up with
anything more to say. Though unremarkable, there's nothing about the six channel audio that warrants any lengthy rants.
There are also stereo surround mixes in English and Español.
Supplements: Like the feature itself, the supplemental material doesn't offer anything beyond the usual. There is a
trailer, a still gallery, and cast/crew bios.
Conclusion: I'm curious if more people have dropped into the Zebra Lounges in Chicago and DC in the past few months,
trembling with anticipation as they wait for Kristy Swanson to ensnare them in sexual hijinks. Spending an hour and a half
sipping watered down drafts by my lonesome at the Zebra Lounge bar couldn't possibly be any less of a disappointment than
plunking down twenty bucks for this DVD. Picture the most generic, run of the mill erotic thriller, cut the number of racy
scenes down the middle, use Austin Powers-style framing to obscure most of the nudity, and you're left with Zebra
Lounge. If you can't resist the urge, I'm sure it won't be too excruciating a wait for Zebra Lounge to turn up
again on HBO late one night.