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‘Exit to Eden’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 14, 1994


Garry Marshall
Dana Delany;
Paul Mercurio;
Rosie O'Donnell;
Dan Aykroyd;
Stuart Wilson;
Under 17 restricted

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Garry Marshall made prostitution palatable with "Pretty Woman," but he clearly has no idea how to do the same for sadomasochism. Having purchased the rights to Anne Rice's 1985 novel, "Exit to Eden," Marshall apparently couldn't figure out which way to go in telling the tale of dominatrix-with-the-mostest Mistress Lisa (Dana Delany). You don't have to be a masochist to sit through "Exit to Eden," but it helps.

Mistress Lisa runs Club Eden, a Fantasy Island for rich, mostly pasty-white folk with overactive libidos, and she does so quite efficiently until she falls for one of her clients, globe-trotting photojournalist Elliot Slater (Paul Mercurio, the Australian hunk from "Strictly Ballroom").

Unfortunately, Marshall and writers Deborah Amelon and Bob Brunner, eager to justify nudity and naughty behavior but clearly uncomfortable with genuine erotic notions, opt for smarmy, smutty comedy. They do this by introducing four new characters and a whole new cops-and-robbers plot, in the process shifting the focus from Delany to Rosie O'Donnell, here playing wisecracking undercover cop Sheila, banished to Eden with partner Fred (Dan Aykroyd).

With O'Donnell providing a voice-over that sounds suspiciously like a stand-up act, "Exit to Eden" bumbles and falls, turning into an unintentional parody of HBO's "Real Sex." It's "Laverne and Shirley Do S&M;"

Smugglers Omar (Stuart Wilson) and Nina (Iman) are plot ciphers, since Marshall clearly intends for O'Donnell and, to a lesser extent, Aykroyd, to carry the film; theirs is a teaming of a stiff, male chauvinist prig and a self-deprecating free spirit who loves to embarrass him with feminine hygiene updates. For those who have always wondered what Rosie O'Donnell looks like in leather bondage gear, "Exit to Eden" provides the answer.

Those who've wondered what Dana Delany looks like buck naked and facing a camera will have their prayers answered too, thanks to several totally gratuitous scenes that do surprisingly little damage to her wholesome image. The heart of Rice's novel, Mistress Lisa has been virtually written off in the film. There's no depth to her character, no plausible explanation for her rise to the top in the S&M fantasy field and none for her suddenly falling for Elliot. Apparently, Lisa's been looking for love in all the wrong places: As she tell her new beau, "after a hard day of smacking people, it's nice to cuddle."

As for Mercurio, he bares his soul much less frequently than he bares his behind: With Hollywood's double standard still in effect, Mercurio suffers not from full-frontal exposure, even when Delany is spanking him.

She should have done the same to Garry Marshall. He simply has no idea how to deal with the far frontiers of sex, and his take on sadomasochism resembles nothing so much as the soft-core porn ramblings of a dirty old man. Rice should never have worried about the upcoming film adaptation of "Interview With the Vampire"; this is the stake through her art.

"Exit to Eden" is rated R and contains much nudity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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