When it came out, Exotica was hailed by critics as a cerebral thriller with an intricate plot ("just like Pulp Fiction!"). The video previews show a phosphor-blue strip club with the fast-paced bump-and-grind music one expects from a strip club, and lots of dramatic cut scenes with actors saying intense things like "You have no idea how far it's gone!"
In actuality, Exotica's intricate plot is just confusing. Critical pieces of information which should be handled by some minimal exposition are withheld, making character motivations and plot developments incomprehensible. And even though the transparent and sometimes offensive sexual and racial metaphors littered throughout the film imply that the writer or director has a point to make, we're damned if we can tell what that point is. If navel-gazing introspection is what passes for cerebral these days, then this movie certainly qualifies.
In the film, Exotica is a strip club, within which many of the shadier scenes take place. The club is M.C.'d by Eric, who has so many twisted relationships with the other characters and his own psyche that we had to take notes to keep up. The club itself is the most depressing strip club on the face of the earth. First of all, there is very little nudity. You would think the patrons would be demanding refunds, if this is all the skin they get to see. Moreover, the patrons are all extremely morose, as if every fifth drink made at the bar has broken glass instead of ice. And then there is the music of Leonard Cohen, adding to general feelings of loneliness and denial that hang over the club scenes like the smell of a dead wolverine (a wolverine because this film takes place in Canada, eh?).
The film revolves around four characters: Eric, the dirty-mouthed MC; Christina, Eric's former lover and now a stripper at the club; Francis, an IRS auditor and a patron of the club; and Thomas, a rare bird smuggler. By far, Francis is the most screwed-up. He visits the club to pretend that Christina is his murdered daughter. This is facilitated by the fact that Christina's dance routine is that of a schoolgirl, complete with tartan skirt. Eric, who refers to Christina as a 'sassy piece of jailbait' during her act, is secretly entranced by watching Francis watch Christina. At the same time, he harbors bitterly jealous feelings toward her, even though he has some sort of weird paternity contract with the now-pregnant owner of the club, Zoe.
When Eric anonymously prompts Francis to touch Christina (an act forbidden by the club), Francis is thrown out of the club (by Eric, who appears to enjoy the act tremendously). Francis, who is currently auditing Thomas' suspicious business, enlists Thomas to his cause by threatening to expose his smuggling operation. Thomas wears a police surveillance transmitter into the club and talks to Christina at Francis' bidding. And for good measure, we watch a few pointless scenes about Thomas' struggling love life.
If any of the above was confusing, then you'll be put off by the fact that that was the most straightforward version of the plot we could muster, and we even left out several major portions of the story. It's just all too much to be stuffed into this 103-minute film, especially when you have to wait for an hour to get even the most basic facts about the characters. Typical questions we asked ourselves during this film were: "Who is this guy again?" "What is he doing?" "What the heck does THAT mean?"
In short, Exotica is a random collection of neurotic characters who turn out to be connected by circumstances rather than by common interests. Where Pulp Fiction's circuitous plot added to the feeling of madcap comedy and active chaos, Exotica's twisted time-sequence merely confuses the issue. We sat at the end of the film, mouths gaping wide, saying "No! No! What? Credits? But nothing HAPPENED!"
Avoid Exotica like the plague. It doesn't deliver on the sex, and it doesn't deliver on the supposed "psychological-thriller" plot. There's no reason you should deliver cash from your wallet to the video store in order to see it.