British comedy takes a step back some three decades with “Preaching to the Perverted,” an old-fashioned, nudge-nudge-wink-wink lark set in London’s S&M club scene that plays like “Carry on Flagellating” crossed with “Confessions of a Spanker.” Despite courageously classy playing by American lesbian icon Guinevere Turner, whose presence alone may give pic marginal legs at gay fests, the most profitable sales avenue for this first movie by Brit TV helmer Stuart Urban will be as spacing for post-production houses. Film tanked in its first week in Blighty.
Henry Harding (Tom Bell) is a crusading politician leading a tabloid-driven crackdown on London’s S&M clubs. Top of his list is the House of Thwax, based in a dingy warehouse and run by a Yank fetish queen, Tanya Cheex (Turner). Harding dispatches virginal volunteer worker Peter (Christien Anholt), an employee of a religious computer company, to go undercover and get the videotaped goods on Tanya & Co.
In the course of his visits, Peter becomes obsessed with Tanya and tries to persuade her to go straight. Tanya, intrigued by the white-bread innocent, teaches him some tricks of her trade, while making it clear that heterosexual intercourse is never an option. When Tanya is dragged into court by Harding, star witness Peter has to make a tough decision.
Pic poses as a groundbreaking portrayal of “modern” love and sexuality, and an expose of moral hypocrisies by the Brit government, but it’s nothing of the kind. Plot is basically an excuse for a series of naughty episodes and camp sequences that promise much but deliver little — especially in the laffs department. Characters are cardboard English stereotypes dating back a generation or more.
Aside from the sexy Turner (“Go Fish”), who’s a class act in every respect, the comic mugging is borderline embarrassing, especially from veterans Bell, Georgina Hale (as his sexually repressed assistant), comedian Ricky Tomlinson (as a yellow journo) and the late Don Henderson. Production values are basic and cramped, though there’s a certain verisimilitude to the club scenes, which reportedly used many real devotees as extras.
End crawl sets a first by listing nipple and tongue doubles for Turner.