Situated somewhere between Adrian Lyne's "Nine and a Half Weeks" and Atom Egoyan's "Exotica," Michael Nolin's directorial bow, "Wildly Available," proves an earnestly acted, if at times too polite, amble on the wild side, with Kristoffer Tabori as a midlife-crisis candidate drawn to a young prostitute-dominatrix. Neither outrageous enough to spark word of mouth nor cerebral enough to entice serious cinephiles, low-budgeter might lure a certain following to smaller arthouse venues, but stands a better chance of breaking out as a video sleeper for curious stay-at-homes. Tabori and Jennifer Sommerfield are first-rate as Joe and Wendy, L.A. gallery owner and love slave looking for commitment in all the wrong places. Ditto Jane Kaczmarek as Joe's bright but self-deluding wife, Rita. Writer-director Nolin, who produced the considerably safer "Mr. Holland's Opus," bookends the action with Joe's AA confessions and frustrating one-way sessions between Rita and her shrink. In between, Joe and Wendy break out handcuffs, nipple clips and other paraphernalia, and perform mostly playful bondage scenarios, which reflect male-dominant Hollywood's preference regarding nudity.

On 1-to-10 titillation scale, a New York strip-club sequence rates at least a seven. Joe and Wendy watch a stripper (Sara Costa, who also choreographed) and then, with little coaxing, Wendy takes to the stage for a very professional-looking impromptu set. Demi Moore in “Striptease” didn’t have half the moves.

Pic’s main twist is that Joe isn’t really into S&M; he experiments with the subculture only to court Wendy, whose regular clientele likes it rough. Setup allows for cute-to-embarrassing moments, such as when Joe is first shackled (“OK, but no pain or humiliation”) and when 11-year-old Samantha (Rachel Crane) interrupts Dad’s latenight video research. Wendy recalls, “When I was little I used to chase boys and tie them up.” She’s been empowered ever since.

Needless to say, such material would come off as ludicrous without full commitment from the cast. Tabori piles on the charm to make his straying husband character likable, and, even when down to his briefs, he’s never less than poised. Sommerfield often resembles the young Kim Novak in Paddy Chayefsky’s “Middle of the Night,” and in sexually ambiguous moments conjures some of that star’s pale vulnerability.

Kaczmarek finds shadings in the thankless victim role and really pours it on for a final kitchen flare-up. Lou Rawls appears briefly as a saloon singer who doles out barstool advice even he doesn’t buy. Hoagy Carmichael handled this kind of thing better.

Though the climax doesn’t come off, and overall handling of a taboo subject will seem too soft-focus for those voyeurs in the house, pic overall augurs well for frosh helmer Nolin, who has a strong visual sense and obvious knack with actors. Production values, including William D. Barber’s lensing, are above average, and Porter Jordan’s original songs, including “Chain Me to Your Heart,” further pic’s storybook take on rough trade.

Wildly Available

Production

A Wildly Available LLC presentation of a Peter E. Strauss/Michael Nolin production. Produced by Julie Bilson Ahlberg, Sharyon Cobe, Michael Nolin. Executive producers, Peter E. Strauss, Frank Giustra. Directed, written by Michael Nolin.

Crew

Camera (Foto-Kem color), William D. Barber; editor, Janice Engel; music, Porter Jordan, Jerry Styner; set decoration, Lisa Roman; second unit director/camera, Frank G. DeMarco. Reviewed on videocassette, San Jose, Oct. 17, 1997. (In Hollywood Film Festival.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Joe ..... Kristoffer Tabori Wendy Jennifer Sommerfield Rita ..... Jane Kaczmarek Samantha Rachel Crane Jazz Singer .....Lou Rawls Therapist .....Megan Cole David .....Christopher Burgard N.Y. Dancer ..... Sara Costa Rita's Mother .....Toni Sawyer
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