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Directed by Bill Condon.
Written by Bill Condon.
Starring Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard and Chris O'Donnell.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  12/15/04


Along with my buddy Yac and Ross "Stinger!" Stephenson, I took in the new drama "Kinsey", about the leading sexologist of the 20th century.

Well, he might not have been the leading one, but he certainly was one of the first prominent ones in this country.  Soon after The Great Depression, Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson), having a tough time at that whole sex thing early in his marriage to Clara "Mac" McMillan (Laura Linney), seeks counseling for their sexual problems...and then, the light bulb goes on over his head--why not ask people about their sexual habits in order to teach others how to explore their own sexuality?  With the help of a small team of researchers (played by Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O'Donnell and Timothy Hutton), Kinsey goes about the learning process while teaching a new class at Indiana University about just what this whole sex thing is all about.  Along the way, he learns a lot about himself, his family, and most importantly, the taboos of the average American citizen's sex life.

Those that know me know that I generally despise American films' depiction of sex and everything related to it; things never look quite right, or sound quite right, or are treated like everyone in the audience is 17 years old.  So, "Kinsey" avoids much of this by not giving us much actual sex but instead giving us frank sexual conversation, and this works to the film's advantage when everything seems like it is the clumsiest thing in the world to Kinsey's mostly stunned audiences.  It's fun, for example, watching one of his classes react to a simple shot of a penis entering a vagina, because director Bill Condon ("Gods and Monsters") plays it up by constantly cutting to shots of shocked onlookers.  How staid were the 1940s and 50s?  From the looks of it, pretty staid, at least in terms of a public comfort level.  Scenes involved the researchers learning from their subjects are equally well done; how would you answer more than 200 questions about your sexuality and your preferred positions and your interest in porking local cattle??  Maybe the most twisted scene in the movie--where Kinsey and his family discuss sexual habits over dinner--is its most provocative:  what if your dad was the country's leading authority on sexual statistical sampling?

All of this happens in the film's first hour, as Kinsey builds to national prominence and on a personal level figures out his own sexual interests.  Neeson is, as usual, excellent; his Kinsey is awkward and linguistically pointed, and this gives the film much unintentional intentional humor (if that makes any sense).  His wordplay comes across as overly scripted, but with Neeson in this role one assumes he is capturing the tooly, scientific nature of the man he is portraying and it makes for a fun spectacle to watch Neeson work, early on at least.  Linney, as Kinsey's wife, is also as reliable as always; you can almost feel yourself smiling every time Linney breaks out her signature grin.  The support from characters played by Oliver Platt, Hutton, O'Donnell and Sarsgaard is good enough; a super cameo by Bill Sadler ("Die Hard 2") as a sexually deviant subject late in the film will keep you from falling asleep...

...oh yeah, which is the main problem with "Kinsey" after the publication of the author's book on the American male's sexual tendencies more than midway through the movie--it's unbeLIEVably boring after this sequence.  The kind of boring where you start to notice things like other audience members' breathing habits, or what you have to do at work the next day, or that girl working behind the concession counter.  The sex talk wears out its welcome, and then in a no-brainer, everyone starts sleeping with everyone else, and you find yourself not caring.  We get the requisite age makeup for Neeson and Linney, we get the tying of loose ends in the form of Kinsey's bad relationship with his father (played by John Lithgow; where have YOU been?), we get Kinsey fading from grace.

It leaves you with a "let's get the hell out of this theater right now" ending to a film that for a while is invigorating stuff.  "Kinsey" would have been better served as a 100-minute film that ended on a high, rather than a 120-minute film that limps to the finish line...but, directors with total control seem to make the decision to give us too much time and again these days.  You won't feel too bad dropping $6 on this one, though.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09