Zebra Lounge (2001)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Blindfold: Acts of Obsession

Ultimate Desires

Devil in the Flesh

Zebra Lounge

Lava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

"We need more Baldwin
in our sex life."
The only sort of people who might enjoy Zebra Lounge are the same sort of people who would seek it out in the first place: people too timid to rent actual porn flicks or even their neutered cousins in the "erotic thrillers" corner of the video store. This picture offers those viewers the safety net of a "serious" plot, glossy cinematography, and Hollywood-approved movie stars, but it also provides a few flashes of nipple and some tastefully lit simu-sex. It's soft-core porn, sanitized and rationalized for your protection.

Any sympathy we might feel for the marital challenges possessed Wendy and Alan Barnet (Brandy Ledford and Cameron Daddo) is immediately offset by the fact that they are an improbably attractive couple whose only real problems lie in the blandness of their yuppie existence. Doubtless there are plenty of unhappy people with seemingly perfect lives, but things might have gone more smoothly for Zebra Lounge had the Barnets been given personalities to go with their problems. As it is, the sheepish mutual admission that a joint fling with another couple might jump-start their own conjugal connection is as close as these white-bread underwear models get to displaying intellectual substance. They're hardly the kind of people about whom one wants to base a movie.

"This is the fifth Baldwin, Enos."
Oh, but these filmmakers do try! Creeped out by the thought of approaching any of their married friends, Wendy and Alan put an ad in a swingers' mag and are soon deluged with replies. Looking over the scads of lascivious responses, our heroes choose the Bauers, a similarly attractive and normal-seeming couple who send a Christmas photo. The Barnets meet the Bauers at the Zebra Lounge, which looks kind of like the Miami club Bed without the beds. (Don't worry, there are beds aplenty elsewhere in the movie.) The Bauers are Louise (the inexplicably top-billed Kristy Swanson -- and she doesn't even get naked!) and Jack (Stephen Baldwin -- who, thankfully, doesn't get naked either). After some initial misgivings and some coaxing on the Bauers' part, Wendy and Alan decide they'd like to swing that way.

The New Yorker
revamps yet again.
One simulated sex scene later, Wendy and Alan are back on the matrimony bliss express. Therapy? Don't make us laugh. What this relationship really needed was some guilt-free extramarital sex. Having found happiness in each others' arms once more, the Barnets decide to eschew further liaisons. What they don't count on is that Jack and Louise don't want to end the relationship. The Bauers begin showing up at Barnet family functions and lavishing expensive gifts on their kids. Jack helps Alan climb some additional rungs on the corporate ladder. All they want in return, they claim, is the occasional episode of extremely creepy nooky.

One of these episodes involves the Bauers' swimming pool and a few doses of ecstasy, which apparently inspires Wendy to engage some aquatic acrobatics with Louise. This flies in the face of studies which indicate that ecstasy dampens sexual arousal. Of course, Zebra Lounge also flies in the face of the fact that Stephen Baldwin dampens sexual arousal, so we suppose this is a minor quibble.

How far Buffy has fallen.
A more substantial quibble would be our confusion about the Bauers behavior. They appear to be rich and have a limo and stuff, yet they want to hang out at a child's birthday party held by near-strangers? Soon Jack and Louise act flamboyantly crazy and commit so many crimes in public places that you have to wonder how they keep it together enough to have such nice things.

When it becomes clear that the Bauers intend to insinuate themselves into every aspect of the Barnets' family life, Alan and Wendy decide to be rid of the spiteful swingers by any means necessary. Whether they succeed in this we won't reveal. It is clear by the end, however, that we are supposed to wonder whether the marital happiness the Barnets gained was worth the price extracted from their souls. We wonder similar things about film studio executives -- in the unlikely event that they have souls to worry about.

Review date: 11/14/2003

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