In "Bolero," Bo Derek plays an American heiress in the 1920s, graduating from an unspecified English college and feeling herself "quite possibly the most overeducated woman in the country."
If you can believe that, you will have no difficulty with the premise of little Bo's latest peep show: those endless hours devoted to book learning have left her no time to explore the wonders of sex. She is a virgin with a case of "good girl claustrophobia." All she knows is what she's gleaned from Rudolph Valentino's movies.
Harnessing her formidable intelligence to the task, she heads for North Africa, then Spain, in search of the swain who will whisk her off to bed. She has, it must be admitted, rotten luck. So will anyone who stumbles into this soft-core fantasy, now playing at area theaters. It is so squishy in the head you may think it was written and directed by a jellyfish, not by Bo's very own adoring husband, John Derek.
Of course, going to a Bo Derek film with the expectation of encountering the rudiments of story and dialogue is a folly akin to consulting the Playboy centerfold for home decorating tips. Like "Tarzan," the Dereks' previous collaboration, "Bolero" exists merely to display Bo in various picture post card locales; sporty, if anachronistic, fashions; and occasional states of undress.
Only one question may be legitimately asked of it: how much of Bo in the buff do you see? An aggregate, I'd guess, of about five minutes in a film that runs 20 times as long.
Compared with the $5 admission price, your average skin magazine is a steal and twice as revealing. Furthermore, by jiggling the magazine pictures, you will be able to foster an impression of liveliness equal to "Bolero's" best moments.
With her perfect teeth all in a row, her sun-streaked hair, her rosy cheeks that always seem to be reflecting firelight, and her astonishingly lithe body, Derek is a fine specimen of beauty as Southern California perceives it. But she appears to consider the depiction of a thought or an emotion as a flaw on so much perfection and therefore to be avoided like oily foods. To watch her writhe in passion is akin to watching a tuna flopping in the bottom of a fisherman's skiff. Surely something is going on in its dim little mind, but what?
Derek's only moments of naturalness occur when she is in the company of animals. Human beings numb her. Her true spontaneity is reserved for the four-legged set. In "Bolero" there is a fair amount of footage showing her feeding dogs, cuddling camels, and nuzzling horses. It lends a certain home-movie aura to the proceedings and prompts the reflection that once she gets beyond this sex goddess silliness, she will be very happy as a veterinarian's assistant.
Her misadventures begin when she encounters a handsome sheik (Greg Bensen) in what appears to be a nightclub, casbah and zoo all rolled into one.
"I have come all this way to give you something you may not want -- my virginity," she announces. He pours milk and honey over her bare body and then proceeds to lick it off, but falls asleep before the job is half done. Whether this is from an aversion to milk and honey, the effects of "the magic smoke" or plain boredom is one of the myriad mysteries the viewer is forced to live with.
Undaunted, Bo sallies forth to Spain, where she falls for a matador (Andrea Occhipinti) and lures him away from his spitfire mistress. But just when it seems they are going to hit it off, he is gored in the groin by a bull. As he lies on his bed of pain, Bo -- disconsolate but unbowed -- stares him right in the wound and declares, "That thing is going to work. I guarantee it."
Her method for rallying his spirit is to ride around the bullring, Lady Godiva fashion. It fails.
"You're a hard man to seduce," she snaps.
Then she hatches an idea worthy of all her years of scholarship. She will become a bullfighter herself, so piquing his male vanity with her address that he cannot fail to rise to the occasion. This time her unorthodox ploy pays off, leading to the climactic scene of lovemaking, which appears to have been filmed on a large bed of dry ice. With so many wisps of white smoke drifting over their joined bodies, who needs censors?
Monumentally stupid as the plot may be, at least its faint outline can be perceived. The subplots defy understanding. Nonetheless, along for the ride are: George Kennedy, playing Bo's faithful chauffeur; plumpish Ana Obregon, playing Bo's faithful schoolmate and traveling companion; and teen-age Olivia D'Abo, playing a faithful gypsy girl, who joins the group midway through the film, apparently so she can lather up in a tub. One can only hope their working days were short and their salaries fat.
Bad as "Bolero" is, it is unfortunately not bad enough. Seekers of inadvertent high-camp hilarity will be as let down as those who are suckered in by the promise of Bo's golden flesh. "My dreams take me to infinity," rhapsodizes our heroine at one point. Maybe. But her movie will take you only for your money.