Red Letters (2000)

R   |    |  Crime, Drama

Red Letters (2000) Poster

A college professor reluctantly hides an escaped female convict who tries to get him to help prove her innocent of a murder.


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5 August 2014 | lazarillo
Very ambitious but not very successful
Peter Coyote plays a famous writer of erotic literature who also teaches college classes on Nathaniel Hawthorne. He keeps having affairs with his nubile co-ed students, not because he's a letch, but because they keep throwing themselves at him like they were in heat. After a sex scandal, he moves to a new college where he is immediately pursued by the dean's daughter (the always enjoyable Fairuza Baulk). He also gets involved with a sexy female convict (Nastassja Kinski), who may or may not have killed the wife of her ex-lover (Udo Kier), after he inadvertently reads some letters she sends to the former resident of his new apartment. There is some ridiculous Rube Goldberg-type plotting involving a fellow professor/erstwhile computer hacker (Jeremy Piven) and the convict's sexy white-trash sister (Layla Roberts). Eventually, the female convict escapes and ends up hiding out in the professor's apartment.

This movie is way more ambitious than your average "erotic thriller", but that doesn't mean it quite works. It begins promisingly with a naked co-ed sitting on the professor's desk reading erotic passages from his own novel to him. But after that there is pretty much no sex or nudity at all, a huge mistake for this kind of film. It's totally understandable that Nastassja Kinki may have grown weary of being sexually exploited. (She wasn't yet 40 at the time but had already been doing it for 25 years). But this probably wasn't the best role to take then. Still, Kinski is a talented actress and her entire appeal is not based on her getting naked. That's also never been the appeal of cult actress Fairuza Baulk. It's inexcusable though to cast a "Playboy Playmate"/"Baywatch" babe like Layla Roberts in a movie and have her keep her clothes on. Those girls were never known for their acting. (It's kind of like calling a plumber, paying him, and then telling him to forget about the clogged-up sink, you need help with your taxes).

Of course, both the sister and the more interesting Piven character are completely superfluous to the plot to begin with, and Udo Kier is similarly wasted in a brief, throwaway role. That's the other main problem with the movie--it has way too many loose narrative strands. There is a potentially interesting subplot where the professor is pressured by the administration to give an undeserved grade to a spoiled, barely black female student for purely "PC" reasons, but they really should have either developed this subplot or dropped it altogether. And then there's a scene where they visit a former tenant (Pauly Shore) who now lives in a hothouse with a bunch of snakes. I'm sorry, but there is NEVER a good reason to put Pauly Shore in a movie (there's no such thing as NON-gratuitous Pauly Shore). This should have definitely met the editing-room floor. By this time, the movie has become absurdist black comedy, but you should probably realize a movie is absurdist, black comedy well before it's three-quarters of the way over.

I can give this movie some points for creativity and ambition (and a pretty impressive cast), but it's definitely not a success overall.

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