Thursday, 1 March 2012



How bad can it be? What's the worst that can happen? It's undeniably true that life can be unshrinkingly horrible and ghastly, laden with misery, despair and oppression. People can be bastards. Switch on the news and it's an endless parade of squalid greed, violence and evil. Real life stinks; as good a reason as you'll need to escape the drudgery for an evening with a DVD filled with happiness and pretty people. When it comes to movies, though, there's generally a limit to how bad things can get: there'll usually be a basic level of professionalism (not always, thanks to the rise of decent quality budget camcorders and the popularity of the found footage genre), and it'll usually be over in less than two hours. But occasionally you stumble over a movie that looks to have been made in a parallel universe where everyone is mental.

Sextette is a movie of such stupefying, slack-bowelled wrongness that couldn't be much wronger if it included some obese nudists tying kittens to anvils and firing them into the Thames from a trebuchet to a reggae soundtrack. An all-star gerontophiliac sex farce full of clumping one-liners that aren't just pre-war but pre-talkies would be staggering enough, but one in which Timothy Dalton serenades his new bride with Neil Sedaka's Love Will Keep Us Together? That's already pushed the whatthe****ometer into the danger zone and we're only a reel into the damned thing. And that isn't the worst of it. Dalton was 33 at the time, and his love interest was a mere 84 - the love interest in question is Mae West. It's like watching a remake of The Stud except the hunky Oliver Tobias has been replaced by Wilfrid Brambell at his most decrepit.

Newlyweds Dalton and West, a landed British diplomat and a legendary Hollywood sex siren respectively, check into the bridal suite at a swanky London hotel to be confronted with a frankly insane level of media interest and TV commentary, even down to having American news crews broadcasting live from the lobby. Over the course of the wedding night, several of her ex-husbands turn up, including Tony Curtis (doing Standard Comedy Russian as the Soviet delegate at an international conference), George Hamilton (doing Standard Comedy Mafioso as a thuggish gangster) and Ringo Starr (doing Standard Comedy Film Director as an auteur trying to shoot a screen test with Peter Liapis, who would later show up as the star of Ghoulies). There's also the hunt for West's cassette tape of memoirs that's gone missing and which contains incendiary material that perhaps shouldn't be broadcast....

Cue genuinely creepy scenes of an 84-year-old Mae hanging out with bodybuilders and athletes, Dalton merrily misunderstanding the word "gay", Dom De Luise as Mae's manager performing the Beatles' Honey Pie (complete with a tapdance on top of a piano), George Raft for twelve seconds, Dalton on a trampoline and Mae uttering her thudding one-liners from the 1930s (including "when I'm good I'm very good but when I'm bad I'm better" and "is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?"). Everything is so misconceived, misjudged and mistimed: a vulgar mix of show tunes (performed by people who really shouldn't sing), badly delivered dirty jokes, famous faces (Walter Pidgeon and Alice Cooper also show up) and a lead performance from someone who doesn't get a single close-up lest we see she's wearing enough makeup to pebbledash a three-bedroom house.

None of this nightmarish atrocity works in the cold cynical light of the 21st century and I can't believe it worked in 1977. Or even in the original stage play which West wrote in 1960 (and even back then she was entitled to free eye checks and a bus pass). Under the opening credits there's a shot of the old Plaza in Lower Regent Street (now the Apollo Piccadilly and a Tesco Express) screening Airport 77; a film which is considerably funnier but less of a disaster. Much of the time, principally during the musical numbers (with a few exceptions, I can't abide musicals anyway, and I honestly didn't realise this even was a musical) and my primary conscious responses were to stare in disbelief at the screen and wonder "in Heaven's name stop it!" and "what the hell were you thinking?" over and over again. It's horrible beyond words and reason, it almost physically hurts to watch it, and I may need to go and cleanse my soul with some crystal meth and bestial pornography. Horrible.


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