As Heathers rings in its twentieth-ish anniversary with a shiny new special edition on DVD, Anchor Bay is giving writer Daniel Waters' latest flick a release on DVD and Blu-ray. Okay, Sex and Death 101 isn't going to go down as the instant classic Heathers was, but it's still a really solid sex romp and a helluva lot better than the usual stale, beer-'n-boobs frat comedies.
Simon Baker (Land of the Dead) stars as Roderick Blank, the marketing wizard at a Starbucks-ish upscale fast food chain. Yup, Rod Roddy's successful, good-lookin', and...well, taken. He's just a week and change away from doing the whole ring-swapping thing, but as his assistant (The Facts of Life's Mindy Cohn) rattles off some e-mails to him, she stumbles upon a list of 101 names. It starts off with every woman Roderick's ever slept with in chronological order, and his take-no-prisoners fiancee (Julie Bowen) is sitting somewhere in the twenties. Rod kind of shrugs it off until his bachelor party where he...um, accidentally porks the stripper and starts to clue into what the rest of this list means: it's the name of every woman he'll ever sleep with.
'Course, this kinda wreaks havoc with the impending nuptials and all as Roderick feels obligated to plow through dozens and dozens of ready, willing, and able women. As much fun as he has at first -- a centerfold, a thank-you-and-pull-around drive-thru fling, a lesbian fairy power couple on a swingset, and the list goes on and on -- Roderick starts to pick up on the downsides of knowing exactly what the future holds. Doesn't help that Roderick's sowing a couple barrel drums of wild oats while a hyper-feminist, not-quite-serial-killer dubbed Death Nell (Winona Ryder) is skulking around the city, putting a small army of skeevy sex fiends in a coma.
Okay, Sex and Death 101 is about as much a critical darling as...well, pretty much anything else with "sex" and "death" in the title, hovering somewhere around the 26% mark on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this. Me, though...? I dug it. It's kind of a nice change of pace to see a sex comedy where the main characters are all well into their thirties, and writer/director Daniel Waters juggles a bunch of different tones -- slapstick, romantic comedy, sugary sweetness, and a cacklingly dark sense of humor -- really well. Waters also has a knack for toying with expectations. Sure, some of the gags are kind of telegraphed -- when a foxy centerfold (Sophia Monk) coos at Roderick to meet her two doors down in a palatial house with a deathly ill grandma...well, let's play connect the dots -- but there are a steady string of zigs and zags in the plot that kept me off-guard, leading up to a kinda-sorta-climax with a really surreal flashback. A lot of Waters' transitions are pretty clever too, from a montage of katakana (or whatever) tramp stamps to tearing through a big chunk of the list with a letter to Penthouse Forum. It took me a little while to warm up to Simon Baker in the lead -- a lot of his delivery early on sounds too much like he's acting instead of flowing comfortably -- but he does settle into the role, and it's a really well cast movie overall. It definitely doesn't shy away from showing a heckuva lot of skin, so...yeah, that's something too. Sexy, funny, a whole lot more clever than usual...yup, Recommended.
Video: Sex and Death 101 looks pretty much perfect in high-def, presented on Blu-ray at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and encoded with AVC. It's bright, extremely colorful, really sharp, richly detailed...you know the drill. The only hiccup I spotted is a bit of edge enhancement. At least to my eyes, the ringing is only distracting in the scenes in the 'White Room' where a handful of characters are set against a more-or-less solid white backdrop. I could spot faint haloes in other scenes if I looked for them, but at least on my current display, they didn't leap out from a normal seating distance. The edge enhancement is a bit of a drag, but it's not annoying enough to drag the overall score down.
Audio: Sex and Death 101 sports an uncompressed PCM 5.1 track, although it's kind of a standard issue comedy mix: pretty much all of the action is anchored up front, some not-a-leper squealing aside, the surrounds are reserved mostly for light atmosphere and to reinforce the music, and the subwoofer kind of just sits around and twiddles its low-frequency thumbs. Fidelity, clarity, bass response, stereo separation...all of the usual talking points are fine but kind of unremarkable this time around. I don't have any gripes with the audio, but it's not exactly going to push any home theater rigs to the breaking point.
A plain-jane Dolby Digital 5.1 track is selected by default, and subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and Spanish.
Extras: Quick to tear off on rants and eager to touch on pretty much every last aspect of production, writer/director Daniel Waters belts out one of those commentary tracks where he barely stops to catch his breath for two hours straight. It's really comprehensive and a hell of a lot of fun, tackling everything from why he wrote Roderick as a high muckity-muck at a fast food chain to shooting Simon Baker humping apple boxes to why he thinks Stanley Kubrick needed to put down the typewriter and go to a strip club. Definitely worth a listen.
Waters mentions a deleted scenes reel a couple of times in his audio commentary, but I guess that idea was scrapped. Aside from the commentary, the only other extras are a trailer and a making-of featurette, both presented in standard definition and anamorphic widescreen. "101 Perversions" (17 min.) opens with a spoiler warning but plays pretty much like a straightahead EPK, recapping the plot in between quippy clips from the flick. There are a couple of decent notes about production scattered around in there -- why Waters'll always turn to Aussies from here on out for any role with nekkidness, casting the role of Roderick, how he wanted to squeeze in as many perverts' fantasies as he could -- but it's really aimed at people who haven't already forked over a few bucks to see the movie.
Conclusion: I dug Sex and Death 101, and I think it's exactly the movie it sets out to be: quirky and frequently unpredictable, sultry but surprisingly sweet, and definitely funny enough, even if it doesn't aim for laughs every fifteen seconds. It's a solid sex comedy and several notches above the double-digit-IQ titty-frat-romps from the past few years, and it doesn't hurt that Sex and Death 101 looks pretty slick in high-def too. Recommended.
The usual image disclaimer: the photos scattered around this review are promotional stills and don't necessarily represent the presentation on this Blu-ray disc.