“Dirty Laundry” is a New Jersey-set sex comedy that’s as flat as an ironing board. Loaded with lines and situations that probably sounded funny on paper but resolutely fail to zing onscreen, this first directorial outing by Glaswegian Michael Normand (co-scripter of “Leon the Pig Farmer”) and New Yorker Robert Sherwin looks set to hang out to dry theatrically.
Joey Greene (Jay Thomas) is the boss of an N.J. cleaning business who suddenly realizes he’s hit male menopause. He’s stopped having sex with his wife , advice columnist Beth (Tess Harper), his hair is starting to fall out, and his company is headed for the reefs. His analyst (John Driver) recommends some extracurricular activity with a hooker (Dana Chaifetz), but that doesn’t have much effect and, worse still, Beth is on to him right away.
Beth’s own secret is that she’s pregnant, presumably by her black chiropractor, Lowell (Stanley Earl Harrison), with whom she’s been having a steadily deepening relationship. Her revenge on Joey is to have Lowell move in, much to the surprise of Joey’s parents, Betty (Tresa Hughes) and Max (Michael Marcus). Things get really complicated when Lowell’s wife turns up, wanting a reconciliation; and as Beth’s pregnancy advances, everyone waits on tenterhooks to see what color the sprig will be.
With lotsa jokes about penile implants, performance and so on, the intention seems to have been to make a modern, full-frontal sex comedy with the protagonists middle-agers rather than youngsters. And with Rossini themes pumping away on the soundtrack, and most of the cast throwing themselves into the action (especially the vibrant Harper), there’s no lack of effort coming off the screen. Result, however, is surprisingly flaccid.
Blame it on the generally dull direction and cutting, both of which show little sense of comic timing, and dialogue that tries a little too hard to be shock-funny rather than stemming naturally from characters and situations. Thomas, too, is not ideal in the central role of Joey: Though the neurotic mannerisms are all there, thesp lacks a big enough screen personality to holdthe multicharacter plot together.
As the still-sexy wife, Harper gives it her all but doesn’t generate many sparks with Harrison’s laid-back character. Rest of the cast is OK within script’s limitations, and technically the pic has a reasonable, on-a-budget look.