Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human
1999, NR, 105 min. Directed by Jeff Abugov. Starring Mackenzie Astin, David Hyde Pierce, Lisa Rotondi, Lucy Liu, Markus Redmond, Sharon Wyatt, Carmen Electra, Jack Kehler.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 15, 1999
A faux documentary about human reproduction from an extraterrestrial point of view, this has to be one of the oddest comedies in some time. When it works, which is seldom, it rises nearly to the level of Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), when it doesn't, it's akin to bad daytime television programming, or worse, bad late-night infomercials minus the grinning ex-pat Brits. I'm not sure if it's helping matters that generic sex kitten/ex-Dennis Rodman spouse Electra stars as Jenny, the female of the species, but her eerie, too-perfect physicality and blindingly white dentifrice are certainly something to marvel at, if not enjoy. Far better is Astin (The Last Days of Disco) as Jenny's mate-to-be, Billy, who brings a certain nebbishy charm to the proceedings. Opening in what the alien voiceover (narrated by Frasier's Pierce) refers to as a “sacred meeting ground” (a nightclub), the film follows the human courtship rituals from imbibing ritual liquids (i.e., beers), making eye contact, putting on makeup, and so forth, all the way through to the bitter end, where we get a genuinely distressing shot of Electra in ob/gyn stirrups, shrieking her head off and finally depositing her offspring in her mate's clumsy hands. It's all a bit precious, and by that point it's all you can do not to flee the theatre in search of somewhere to have your tubes permanently snarled. There are a few redeeming highlights in this scattershot comedy wasteland, notably a laugh-out-loud recurring gag in which Billy's sperm (men in white jumpers on what appears to be a high school running track attempt to make it to the finish line, which, incidentally recalls a similar joke in the aforementioned Allen film. Lucy Liu (Ally McBeal) makes a fairly straightforward appearance as one of Jenny's friends, and Markus Redmond, as Billy's accounting office buddy, turns in a nice, subdued role, but Mating Habits, above all, belongs in the histrionic comedy genre, packed as it is with just plain silly situations that fail to elicit grins, much less guffaws. Low-budget filmmaking doesn't have to look low-budget, though Abugov and his crew clearly could have used some better production design; much of the film appears to have been shot on cast-off daytime soap sets, replete with fake book, clapboard shelving, and a general air of cheesiness. Granted, this is Abugov's feature debut, so clearly there's room for improvement, but all told, Mating Habits is a slapdash, comic mess, less amusing than it is annoying. (Mating Habits first played Austin during SXSW '99.)