As a red-blooded American male who's watched his fair share of late night film entertainment from Cinemax and who has a long-running subscription to HBO (for the comedy shows, I swear!), I've never seen a frame of the Poison Ivy films. I know that Drew Barrymore appeared in the first one, as part of her road back to mainstream popularity way back in 1992. Speaking of fallen child star actresses, Alyssa Milano appeared in the 1996 sequel, and a pre-My Name Is Earl Jaime Pressly appeared in the direct-to-video third film in 1997. And now a fourth film has come to video. Like it or not, the series' mix of nudity and suspense has been viewed by some as a touch stone for one...reason or another.
This latest Poison Ivy film, subtitled "The Secret Seduction," is written by Liz Maverick and Peter Sullivan, and directed by Jason Hreno. Ivy has been the name of the female stars of previous films, but this time is the name of a sorority at a prestigious Beckshire College. Continuing with the botanical theme, its leader is Azalea, played by Shawna Waldron. I didn't know who she was before, then a quick IMDB search had me discover that she played Michael Douglas' daughter in The American President, and her first role was in Little Giants. All of a sudden after seeing her topless and in a push-up bra in separate scenes, I feel kind of weird, but in a good way. She's the protagonist to Daisy (Miriam McDonald, Degrassi: The Next Generation). Daisy has come from the farm to Beckshire hoping for a political science degree. She's also working on campus to pay for school, hoping for a scholarship to come through. Along the way, she runs into the usual "fish out of water" plot devices for a kid whose come from the farm to the big city. He has the baggage that falls apart, the weird looking roommate, the guy who falls for her, the makeover into a big city girl, a whole bunch of stuff. She becomes one of the Ivys under Azalea's tutelage, and she begins to take advantage of the doors that open for her, but at what price her own values?
That was as best as I could gather from the story because it was painful to watch. It was devoid of any original plot devices and was like any other softcore film out there. At least with some of the old school films of guys like the late Andy Sidaris, you know that the story is going to be flimsy with a fair share of nudity. Previous Poison Ivy films presumably had a good story to go with the titillation. The Secret Seduction has neither; with a boring story, the cast executes it in the most lifeless manner possible. I guess McDonald is supposed to be the sensational hire, but she looks like a Jessica Alba/Alexandra Wentworth hybrid devoid of any genuine emotion and devoid of any apparent passion in the craft. Waldron likes playing the bad girl, though it's like if Julie Strain started tackling the Twinkies instead of working out. There are some familiar names to be had in the film; the head of the department is Dean Graves (Catherine Hicks, 7th Heaven). The Dean's husband is a professor in Beckshire's prestigious political science program. The professor is played by Greg Evigan, from My Two Dads and B.J. and the Bear. Evigan is even given a love scene in the film, but neither Paul Reiser nor an orangutan was involved in it. At least it would have made the film interesting. By taking the Ivy out of a close quarters familial dynamic, it becomes like Real Genius, if Val Kilmer and Gabe Jarrett were played by buxom women.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The Secret Seduction is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p high definition glory, using the VC-1 codec. The only scene that had some fine image detail was early in the film, when Daisy and her boyfriend are making out before she goes to school, and one of her hairs sticks the the corner of his mouth. Otherwise, there's an occasional hint of background dimensionality, but nothing like the big studio efforts you're used to. Background detail is nonexistent for the most part, and foreground detail is virtually nil. The movie would look kind of impressive on television, but on Blu-ray I wasn't inspired.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track is the only sound option to chose from, as are the English subtitles. Dialogue stays in the center channel but fades in and out through the film, particularly during some of the opening scenes before Daisy goes to school. In other occasions the film tries to hard to be immersive. The film's score during one scene sounds stronger in the rear channels than the dialogue in the center. In other scene when Daisy is inducted into the Ivys, the music's low end action drowns out what's going on in the film. I like the intent, but it doesn't translate well.
The only extra is a digital copy of the film, housed on a second disc. New Line doesn't make their digital copies available for iPod users. I mention this if you have a more appealing New Line Blu-ray release you might be eyeing because quite frankly, why would you want this on your PC?
Poison Ivy: The Secret Seduction is less a derivative of the classic song by the Coasters, and more a 95 minute exercise in strengthening your basic senses. The story is boring, the freshly-turned 21 year-old women are attractive for a second, but this might be the worst of the Poison Ivy quadrilogy. The lowest rating that us DVDTalkers can give doesn't do The Secret Seduction justice. Does "Burn It" count?