Determined to cut through the thicket of political correctness with rapier wit and rude humor, “The Opposite of Sex” ends up being more of a bumpy romp than a good roll in the hay. An acerbic, bitchy comedy about the momentary ups and prolonged downs of sexual entanglements, initial directorial outing by writer Don Roos provokes quite a few laughs that could make this an audience pleaser with a certain niche on the specialized circuit. But it’s the kind of latenight fun that doesn’t look so attractive the next morning.
Roos made a name for himself penning strong women’s roles in such pics as “Love Field,” “Single White Female” and “Boys on the Side,” and he follows suit here by providing ripe opportunities for both Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow, who are deadly funny at times and rep the two best reasons for seeing the picture.
Otherwise, this is an odd-tasting stew of provocative sexual hijinx, trash talk, lower-class vengeance, p.c. sendups and the search for true love. All the characters are odd and rather distasteful to varying degrees, which prevents taking a vested interest in anything or anyone, and the accumulation of gay/straight flip-flops, lovers’ quarrels and betrayals becomes rather grating well before fade-out, given the lack of a light, insouciant directorial hand.
Ricci stars and narrates as Dedee, a 16-year-old Louisiana swamp tramp who, after burying her stepfather, hightails it to Indiana, where she barges in on her half-brother Bill (Martin Donovan), a strait-laced “homo” schoolteacher whose longtime mate, Tom, died of AIDS. He’s now seeing the very good-looking Matt (Ivan Sergei).
On the make from the first moment, Dedee bluntly accuses Matt of being prejudiced and discriminatory in not sleeping with women and thereby succeeds in prodding him into an affair. In short order, Dedee announces that she’s pregnant by Matt, news that turns the wimpy Bill paler than ever. After stealing $10,000 and Tom’s ashes from their jilted host, the unlikely prospective parents take off for L.A.
Things turn even worse for Bill when a scuzzy former student, Jason (Johnny Galecki), comes looking for Matt, a former boyfriend; told what’s happened, Jason blows his top and publicly accuses Bill of having molested him four years earlier at school, thus creating a local scandal that threatens Bill’s job.
A half-hour in, Bill and his best friend, Lucia (Kudrow), a real prune who is the late Tom’s sister, head for L.A. to track down the errant couple in the hopes of clearing the messy slate. Many complications ensue: The true paternity of Dedee’s child is called into question as other men from her past surface; an apparent murder takes place; a strange cop (Lyle Lovett) earnestly pursues the prim Lucia even though she detests even the idea of sex; and the birth of Dedee’s baby produces a curious aftermath.
Dedee’s continuous sarcastic and belittling barbs, delivered by Ricci with the skill of a prospective Bette Davis, sometimes produce eruptive humor but place the entire proceedings in a rather dubious light. More purely enjoyable for its spot-on caricature is Kudrow’s devastatingly sly turn as the self-righteous old maid Lucia. As a school-marm type seemingly born with a disapproving look on her face, Kudrow departs significantly from her usual bouncy, friendly persona with winning results, displaying a flair for deadpan comedy and timing that bodes well for further changes of pace.
The women here far outshine the men, who, except for the humorously low-key Lovett, all play characters who are uncomfortably on the defensive or stuck in duplicitous circumstances.
Roos’ talent for vivid, jump-off-the-screen dialogue remains unquestioned, but his direction is considerably more spotty. Pic has trouble finding a rhythm and tone, sports no visual texture, features too much awkward dead air on the soundtrack and is too obviously filmed almost entirely in the L.A. area; what are those mountains doing in Indiana?