Exit to Eden (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Break out the whips and chains! We're going on a trip to an island called Eden, where the dominatrix Mistress Lisa holds court and just about anything (supposedly) goes. And, judging from the actual journey, if author Anne Rice has any complaints about the shoddy treatment her book got in this limp translation, they're probably well-justified.

Exit to Eden is really two stories in one, which is this case means less, not more, for the money. The film exhibits a split personality in just about every area, from its views on sex down to its uncertainty about whether it wants to be a slapstick crime farce or an offbeat romance.

Elliot (Strictly Ballroom's Paul Mercurio) is a celebrated photographer with a penchant for being spanked (developed when he was a lad in Australia). He signs up for a trip to an exclusive B&D fantasy island, and, once there, falls hopelessly in thrall to Mistress Lisa (Dana Delany), the raven-haired resort boss. Much to her surprise and dismay, she finds herself responding to this new, individualistic guest, and certain involuntary defense mechanisms spring into place.

Taken alone, this particular storyline might have made an enjoyable motion picture. If he didn't want to face up to certain serious issues, director Garry Marshall could have done something similar to what he did with Pretty Woman. Unfortunately, this is only half the plot -- and the better half by far.

Quite by accident, Elliot has taken the only existing photographs of super criminal Omar (Stuart Wilson). Since Omar is incredibly camera shy, he and his cohort in crime Nina (Iman) follow Elliot to the island with the goal of killing him and retrieving the film. Fortunately, a pair of repressed Los Angeles cops (played by Rosie O'Donnell and Dan Aykroyd) are hot on the trail. Everyone eventually ends up on Eden.

There are a lot of attempts at slapstick in Exit to Eden, none of which work. In motion pictures, there are few lamer things than jokes that fall flat, and this movie is full of them. Despite the presence of accomplished comics O'Donnell and Aykroyd, Exit to Eden is almost laughless. Worse still, all the failed humor detracts from time that might better have been spent developing the relationship between Elliot and Lisa.

Rather than approaching his potentially-controversial subject matter with a degree of sensitivity and intelligence, Marshall elects to adopt a Porky's-like, exploitative attitude. Soft-porn titillation interferes with story telling, and one wonders whether Delany and Mercurio were chosen for their roles based on their ability and charisma, or on the appearance of their naked buns (which get a fair amount of exposure).

Exit to Eden has all the ingredients of late night cable fare. The film, which invites a decidedly-unfavorable comparison to John Duigan's Sirens, isn't so much repugnant as it is disappointing. It's "R" rating also raises questions about the basic inconsistency of the MPAA. Other, non-mainstream films have gotten "NC-17"s for a lot less. Perhaps the Association tempered their rating because they found Exit to Eden amusing. If so, they're probably the only ones.

Exit to Eden (United States, 1994)

Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 1994-10-14
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1