Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Take It or Leave It, This Kind of Film Is Impossible to Recommend: "Lipstick" (1976)

This infamous bomb from 1976 boasts the acting debuts of Margaux and Mariel Hemingway, and supporting work from Anne Bancroft, Chris Sarandon, Perry King, and Matthew Perry's dad. I believe the term "train wreck" is in order here.

Chris (Margaux Hemingway) is a beautiful model pushing a new line of lipstick. Kid sister Kathy (Mariel Hemingway) brings by her nerdy music teacher Gordon (Chris Sarandon), to meet Chris and play her some of his music. Gordon catches a glimpse of Chris' nude body, which triggers some deep inner psychosis. Chris is busy licking her lips and arching her back, so she invites Gordon over to her apartment the next day...

...and completely forgets the appointment when Gordon shows up with tape player in hand. During the playing of the unlistenable music, which has the same numbing effect on Chris that rap and hip-hop has on me, she takes a phone call from on-again/off-again boyfriend Steve (Perry King). Gordon goes ballistic, trusses Chris to her bed, and sodomizes here, in one of the ugliest scenes ever filmed. Kathy walks in on the pair but assumes the sex is consensual until Gordon leaves and Chris calls the cops.

Assistant district attorney Carla (Anne Bancroft) prosecutes, with the smug Cartright (Robin Gammell) defending Gordon. The main set piece in the middle of the film is the trial, where Gordon is found not guilty (this is L.A., after all). The sisters try to move on with their lives, unaware that they will soon cross paths with Gordon again.

Margaux Hemingway, who died of an overdose a few years ago, was a beautiful woman. She is not a terrible actress, although Mariel acts rings around her, but it is unfortunate Margaux's career suffered as a result of appearing in this. The film is just not entertaining. It lurches from exploitation to courtroom drama to suspense, with a finale that had me rolling with laughter. Lamont Johnson, a television veteran, directs very workman-like with angles and the film's look.

The screenplay is also a disaster. Steve, and the girls' priest brother (John Bennett Perry) are completely unnecessary characters and should have been dropped. The final sequence's big coincidence that brings the main players together again is hard to swallow. The courtroom scenes are clearly in Carla and Chris' favor, so the verdict makes no sense. As a drinking game, if you take a shot every time Bancroft yells "Objection!," you will be blitzed inside of two minutes. Gordon is a nerdy psychopath, but when we get zero background on him, we never learn why.

Watching a train wreck like this, I could not bring myself to give it just one star. Mariel Hemingway is dynamite, and between this and "The Turning Point," I learned to love the 1970's ballsy Anne Bancroft all over again.

"Lipstick" is a smudge on the careers of everyone involved, but damn it, I couldn't look away. (* * *) out of five stars.