Exit to Eden
and Stephanie Niznik
Hughes, Sandra Taylor, and Tanya Reid
This came in my e-mail:
"I would like your opinion of a movie that drives me
nuts: Exit to Eden, which is very frustrating to watch.
If I didn't know better, I would swear it had a
directorial change during the filming. It starts out as
a very interesting mainstream look at S&M complete
with the island paradise. Then the two moron cops show
up and the movie changes direction from a S&M
fantasy movie into a lame comedy. The thought of going
from Dana Delany nude and provocative as the head
mistress to seeing Rosie O'Donnell in a revealing corset
is about as much of a U-turn as I can stomach. Even
ignoring Rosie's lack of sex appeal, the movie just
turns to shit once she and Ackroyd enter the picture."
I don't have anything to add to what you've said, at
least in terms of analysis. I think you've summed up the
film's problem very precisely. But it might be
interesting to ask, "Why?"
It seems to be two separate movies compacted
uncomfortably into one because that's just what it is.
Exit to Eden was originally a romance novel, a woman's
erotic fantasy, one of those things with Fabio on the
cover, and it was written by Anne Rice. Yes, the same
Anne Rice who is most famous as the author of Interview
with a Vampire, and is now devoting her talent to Jesus.
I haven't read the book and it's unlikely that I ever
will, but I understand that there is nothing in it about
L.A. cops or diamond smuggling, and there's no comedy.
All of that was added for the movie version.
I suppose Garry Marshall felt that the original story
would have to be a late-night Cinemax film if kept in
the foreground, but could get worked into a sexy
mainstream film if moved to the background. Maybe he was
right about that, but this script treatment just didn't
work. The two stories required very different tones, and
they more or less contradicted one another's virtues. As
you pointed out in your letter, the viewer gets ready to
sink into the erotic fantasy and then sees Ackroyd and
Rosie and loses his erection. Maybe for weeks.
I know that Rice is known to be thrilled with the film
adaptation of Interview With a Vampire. I'd love to hear
her comments on this one.
I have to tell you, though, that I don't think the
B&D story would be much of a commercial movie on its
own. Garry Marshall was absolutely right that the
romance between the mistress and the submissive, on its
own, was nothing more than a story for adult cable, like
an expanded episode of Red Shoe Diaries. He correctly
identified that it needed fixing to make it a theatrical
movie, but the problem was that he didn't know how to
fix it. He might have been able to keep the cop story if
he had filled it with dark thinly-veiled eroticism and
sexy music, ala Miami Vice. Rosie and Ackroyd didn't
belong at that resort, but Crockett and Tubbs would have
fit right in. It didn't happen that way because Garry
Marshall is most comfortable with comedy, so that's what
he turned to.
In summary, my take on it is that the story had three
elements: the thriller, the B&D romance, and the
comedy. The romance alone, directed by Zalman King,
could have made an excellent Cinemax film. The romance
plus the thriller, directed by Michael Mann, could have
made an excellent and unthreateningly kinky movie for
limited release, ala Secretary. The romance plus the
thriller plus the comedy, directed by Garry
Marshall, produced what the film is now. Which is
bad. Real bad.
How bad is this movie?
The actors are miscast in general. Dana Delany is the
world's least dominant dominatrix, the only dominatrix
who gives you milk and cookies as part of your
punishment. And some of the romance consisted of
Rosie O'Donnell making out with a young hunk, which may
be the most uncomfortable love scene ever filmed. One
poll identified Rosie O'Donnell's performance here as
the single worst performance ever given by a female in
any movie. And, except for the nudity, Rosie is the best
thing in the movie! By a wide margin. She shone like a
comedic beacon compared to Dan Ackroyd.
On the other hand Rosie and Ackroyd seemed like Hope and
Crosby when compared to the bizarre script.
- The jokes aren't funny.
- The movie's philosophy seemed to be written by
- The plot and dialogue are from another planet.
(Mercurio asks Delany to marry him after they've
been together about 10 hours.)
- The parallel plot about the supercriminal may be
the dullest crime story ever written.
- Hector Elizondo's scenes are completely
- The character development consisted of a couple of
brief flashbacks following a direct question - like
when David Letterman has one of his fantasies. ("How
did I become a dominatrix? Ah, that's a very good
question. Well, ...")
- And if all that were not bad enough, Rosie
O'Donnell actually narrates all the action, Sam
Mercifully, the author never sold another movie script.
I think this would be a serious contender for the worst
movie ever made if not for the copious and enjoyable
nudity. There is absolutely nothing to hold your
attention at any time except nekkid chicks.
Garry Marshall was definitely the wrong director for
this project. That I get. What I don't get is this: if
he didn't want to make a Cinemax movie, why did he buy
the rights to that kind of book in the first place?