Comedy gourmets will relish "Eating Raoul," a spicy new movie served up by Paul Bartel, star, director and coauthor of the screenplay. No doubt about it, Bartel's is the film du jour, a blue-plate special.
The plot, however, may not be to everyone's taste. In fact, some meat-and-potato types will find it downright unsavory. The story's peppered with sex, murder and even a smidgen of cannibalism. Still, it's well done -- comparable to "Sweeney Todd."
Bartel and delectable costar Mary Woronov (an Andy Warhol discovery) play Paul and Mary Bland, a couple who forgot to turn on the timer after 1955. She's a real dish and he's a prissy epicure. They're an odd but loving couple and their dialogue, delivered in the style of Jack Benny and Mary Livingston, parodies vintage "Ozzie and Harriet"-type television drama.
Mary and Paul want to open a restaurant called Chez Bland, but they're social victims because they still believe in the American dream and outmoded Puritan ideals. Paul loses his job on principle, their rent goes up, their apartment building is invaded by hordes of trashy swingers, their credit is canceled and Mary is nearly raped by a sex- crazed neighbor.
After accidentally murdering the would- be rapist with a skillet, the couple cook up a scheme to get the downpayment for their country inn. With the help of a housewife (Susan Saiger), professionally known as Doris the Dominatrix, they place an ad in the Hollywood Press offering to fulfill any sexual fantasy, thereby luring rich perverts to their doom. While Mary entertains the clients -- a Nazi, a hippie, a midget with a Great Dane -- Paul sneaks up and brains them with the pan. There's no blood, no gore, so no need to get squeamish. Then they take their victims' cash and stuff the bodies in the trash compactor.
Eventually they find themselves in partnership with a crooked Chicano named Raoul. The part marks Shakespearean actor Robert Beltran's entry into illegitimate theater. He's funny, he's sexy, he's smoldering. He's Erik Estrada with brains. Raoul fits the Blands' home with locks, then robs it, whereupon he stumbles over a couple of garbage bags full of bodies. He blackmails his way into the Blands' scheme and immediately ups profits by selling the cadavers to a dog-food cannery.
Other more seasoned actors also flavor the proceedings, particularly Buck Henry as a lecherous banker with a hot tub -- the eventual scene of a swinger bouillabaisse; Garry Goodrow as the neighborly rapist; and Richard Paul as a gun-toting liquor-store owner. The camera work is as camp as the Blands' apartment, full of her mother's fabulous '50s furniture. The sex between Woronov and Beltran is saucy; the music is funky; the titles are kicky.
Sure, it all sounds unappetizing. It isn't. It's raw, but not bloody. It's tart, but not vicious; it's lean, but not mean. Lots of belly laughs and something to sink your teeth into all at once. Best eating in town and all around. "Eating Raoul" is an American film that's good enough to be European. EATING RAOUL -- At the Outer Circle.