8 1/2 Women is so full of kinky sex, it's empty


Friday, July 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


Peter Greenaway's 8 1/2 Women has more full frontal nudity -- both male and female -- and hints of kinkiness than any movie released in the past five years.

Father-son incest, naked nuns, even a woman who washes an enormous pig in a bathtub are some of the strange sights you'll see if you tarry past midnight at the Avon tonight and tomorrow.

So why is 8 1/2 Women, whose title is a homage to Federico Fellini's classic 8 1/2, so deadly dull?

It certainly has the weirdness of Fellini's more outrageous flights of fancy, but not the depth.

The plot revolves around a widower and his 20ish son who embark on a voyage of sexual discovery -- after viewing Fellini's 8 1/2 -- first with each other and then with a houseful of women whom they plan to employ as playthings for their desires. It sounds naughty and sexy, but Greenaway is British, not French, and so he's more interested in the philosophical question of how much is too much, discovering in the end that narcissism is boring.

Frankly, the women chosen are mostly emotional basket cases, including a Japanese woman who is sad because she longs to be a female impersonator, but realizes it's impossible. If only she could, she feels, she'd be able to get more in touch with her own femininity. Late in the film Philip Emmenthal (John Standing), the widower, dresses up as a geisha to try to arouse her. It doesn't work. She swoons. She cries. She commits suicide.

The other women who have been collected by Philip and his son, Storey (Matthew Delamere), include a prostitute, a "retired" nun, a housekeeper type, a woman who is constantly pregnant, an officious office manager type and a legless woman, who accounts for the 1/2 in the title.

Sights of a woman who rides a horse bareback, literally, or of Philip having painted his body brown in an attempt to steal the prostitute from her black lover, amuse. But what's the point? Titillating as all this may be, Greenaway can always be counted on to pull away from putting his suggestive ideas into action. The father-son incest scene is hinted at, rather than shown.

In the end, father and son discover what the audience has realized from near the start -- that these women are very annoying and that the offbeat sexuality of 8 1/2 Women is tiresome. The film's final 15 minutes revolve around the Emmanthalers trying to rid themselves of their houseguests, only to come to a sad end themselves. Oh, what a tangled web this is.

*

8 1/2 Women

Starring : Polly Walker, Amanda Plummer, Toni Collette, Vivian Wu, John Standing, Matthew Delamere.

Producers: A Lions Gate Films release written and directed by Peter Greenaway.

Playing : Midnight tonight and tomorrow, Avon Cinema.

Rated : R, contains sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes.

Running time: 2 hours.