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Skin Deep

Let's get the main gag of Skin Deep out of the way — billed as "The Comedy That Glows in the Dark," the movie's most-discussed scene involves a pitch-black bedroom and luminescent condoms, and yes, it is funny in a farcical, Blake Edwards kind of way. But unfortunately that one scene dominated the film's marketing back in 1989, and it seems Skin Deep failed to find an audience thanks to skewed expectations. The film is full of comic moments, but it also is one of Blake Edwards' most mature, introspective works, having less in common with the Pink Panther movies or the wretched hijinks of Blind Date (1987), and sharing the melancholic bleakness of Edwards' popular male-menopause movie 10 (1979) and the Truffaut remake The Man Who Loved Women (1983). In Skin Deep, off-the-wall antics are casually mixed with moments of sardonic verbal humor and straightforward drama — it's a difficult dish for folks who like their entertainment to come in just one or two flavors. But such doesn't prevent it from being a richly textured, under-appreciated movie, primarily due to both Edwards' biting script and a winning lead performance from John Ritter. The actor who dominated prime-time television in ABC-TV's sitcom "Three's Company" was adored by small-screen audiences in the '70s, and for good reason — Ritter is an enormous talent with a knack for drama, comic timing, and brilliant physical humor (how else can we explain why that modest TV show with its implausible scripts was so effortlessly watchable and so much fun? It wasn't because of Suzanne Somers or Joyce DeWitt.) Why Ritter never made the transition to A-list films remains something of a mystery, but Skin Deep marks one of his few starring roles, where he's given latitude to demonstrate his range and universal likability, even when playing somebody who's sort of an asshole. Ritter stars as Zach Hutton, a renowned novelist who has come under the spell of writer's block, but has not lost his appetite for women. But when his wife Alex (Alyson Reed) catches him cheating on his mistress (!), she gives him the sack, tossing him out of their spacious L.A. house. Unsure how to cope with the costly divorce and his inability to write, Zach turns to therapy and more affairs with young women, but he still hopes to find "the answer" that will put his life back on track, and hopefully restore his marriage. Skin Deep offers plenty of Blake Edwards' trademark comic-slapstick bits — the glowing condoms, the hostile poodle, the tsunami, the aerobics with a bad hangover. But there are just as many small, caustic sequences that utilize verbal wordplay — Zach's dinner with his estranged wife and family is passive-aggressive dynamite, and his sessions with his analyst sparkle with insane, solipsistic frustration. And of course there's Ritter delivering the sort of silent, physical comedy so few actors can really pull off — his wordless attempt to find his car after nearly being electrocuted by an ex-girlfriend is a scream, as is his utter overload while getting the best oral sex of his life from a female bodybuilder. Edwards cuts the film at a rapid pace, offering several throwaway gags and never letting the story get bogged down, and our affection for Zach (for all of his flaws) keeps us interested even when the plot veers into trenchant drama (as when Zach contemplates suicide to his analyst). As a director, Blake Edwards had a varied career, but Skin Deep, one of his final films before retirement, must be one of his most personal. And believe it or not, it certainly is one of his very best. Warner's DVD features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Filmographies, trailers. Snap-case.
—JJB



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