EXIT TO EDEN (1994; Dir.: Garry Marshall)
By Daniel Barnes
If nothing else, Exit to Eden is an example of how attempting to play to every demographic only winds up making everyone unhappy. The film is based on an Anne Rice novel about an island dedicated to sadomasochistic fantasies, but in a typical fit of cowardice, the film version is a goofy comedy about undercover cops and jewel thieves set on an island dedicated to very tame quasi-sadomasochistic fantasies.
So now you’ve offended the built-in audience of Anne Rice fans, the rampant nudity still turns off the older crowd, the total lack of sexuality (beyond awkward posing) feels too prurient for the perverts, and you’ve also assured that the film will be terrible by casting Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O’Donnell as the cops.
The plot revolves around an Australian photographer (played by Paul Mercutio of Strictly Ballroom in what turned out to be both his debut and swan song in American film) who accidentally takes a photo of two bumbling jewel smugglers while on his way to the sex resort of Eden, where he will roleplay as a submissive for the island’s rich clientele. After Aykroyd and O’Donnell’s characters foil the exchange of the diamonds in a strip club scene that simply begs you to hit the stop button, they and the escaped jewel thieves hightail it to Eden to find the photo.
Exit to Eden was directed by Garry Marshall, who made prostitution palatable for the masses in Pretty Woman, but couldn’t quite pull off the same feat for sex fantasies — the film is essentially a 70 year-old Jewish man’s idea of outre sexual behavior, which still fails to explain the presence of a nearly nude rollerblading race sequece. In one scene, the island’s visitors actually attend classes and sit at little desks to learn about sexual stimulation – I know that most of my kinkiest fantasies involve lectures, seminars, and taking copious notes, but it’s certainly not for everyone!
Literally every scene in Exit to Eden falls flat — the comedy relief is desperately unfunny, the set design is a catastrophe, the “erotic” scenes are ridiculously tame, and every actor looks rightly embarrassed, especially prim, sweet-faced Dana Delaney as the island’s dominant mistress. She actually looks tired and sad in her smoking hot green leather bustier, as though she realizes what a career-killer she’s gotten herself into.
Once Garry Marshall came on-board and the cop characters were expanded exponentially from the book, I’m surprised they even kept the hook involving the mistress and the photographer. Why even bother pretending the film is about sexual fantasies anymore? Instead, they just took out all intimations of pain, perversity, or penetration — now the photographer is just a sweet guy who needs to be spanked in order to get over his love of spanking and settle down with a nice woman. Concurrently, the mistress’ domination fetish is explained away through the daddy-didn’t-love-her defense, and again it is treated as something she has to get out of her system before getting married and raising a family.
Of course, no one in the film comes off worse than Rosie O’Donnell, who is shoehorned into a stripper’s wig and leather gear, and never ceases her barrage of unfathomably bad one-liners (as DP said, “Wouldn’t you be bummed if you signed up for a freaky sex island and Rosie O’Donnell was there?”). The final straw was her farewell to Delaney: “He told me he wants you to remember that old Australian saying — ‘It ain’t over until the fat kangaroo sings.'” At this point, I actually leapt up from my chair and started pacing the room in agitation, raving wildly and eating bugs in a Renfield-like fit of madness. Only the closing credits could calm me down at that point.
Rosie must have tested well with preview audiences, because she delivers the film’s obviously tacked-on-in-post narration. However, the narration only explains what we’re already seeing, and actually adds layers of confusion to the film. As Mercutio’s character boards the boat for Eden, Rosie claims in voiceover, “He thought he was only going on a harmless photography assignment, but he had no idea what he was in for.” This comes AFTER we’ve already watched Mercutio voluntarily sign up for a job as a submissive on the island. In other words, he DOESN’T think he’s going on a harmless photography assignment, and knows EXACTLY what he’s in for.
The film’s only saving grace is its rampant nudity, including a couple of topless scenes for Delaney, but nakedness can only carry you so far. At 2+ hours long, Exit to Eden isn’t even watchable as a trifling quickie. It’s a form of cinematic torture for the audience much more sadistic than anything that happens in Anne Rice’s novels.