This movie demonstrates that Hollywood screenwriters really shouldn't get the credit they think they deserve.
An erotic thriller that's actually somewhat erotic, though not all that thrilling, Zebra Lounge is about a married couple desperate to rediscover their sexual spark. Alan (Cameron Daddo) and Wendy (Brandy Ledford) still love each other, but no longer seem to have any intimate connection. They've got two kids, Alan is stressed out at work and Wendy...well, she doesn't really do anything so it's unclear what her problem is supposed to be. Their joint difficulty is that Alan and Wendy can't even force themselves to have sex. After Alan finds himself in another woman's apartment almost boinking her, he and Wendy decide they have to do something about it.
That "something" turns out to be wife-swapping. They hook up with Jack (Stephen Baldwin) and Louise (Krsty Swanson), an experienced couple of swingers. But while doing it once turns out to be enough to solve Alan and Wendy's sexual dysfunction, Jack and Louise want more. They pressure and pester and cajole Alan and Wendy into continuing the relationship. Jack even starts showing up at Alan's work, helping him get in good with his boss. But after an Ecstasy-fueled romp in a swimming pool leads Wendy to have some sort of breakdown, Alan finally tries to end things. When Jack and Wendy move in next door and make it clear that nothing is over until they say it's over, Alan and Wendy are forced to consider drastic action.
The sex scenes in Zebra Lounge are fairly provocative for this sort of film, though it is weird that Brandy Ledford is the only one who gets naked. I mean, Kirsty Swanson even has one more sex scene than Ledford and she never takes her bra off. That had to be somewhat awkward on the set. You can understand the two bigger-name actors insisting they remain clothed, but Ledford's fellow no-name actor Cameron Daddo doesn't show his ass either. Ledford is pretty and sexy and all that, but when only one person is nude at an orgy
it just looks odd.
It's fairly standard to hear screenwriters complain about not getting the credit and attention they deserve for their work on a film. Watching Zebra Lounge makes those complaints ring hollow, because the script has virtually nothing to do with what makes this low-budget, sex-and-violence flick a cut above the dozens and more of similar films cranked out every year. It's not that this movie is poorly written, though the second half of it does start to show some very obvious flaws. It's just that there's nothing in the writing that's particularly good. The plot isn't all that complex or clever. The dialog isn't memorable or striking in any respect. The themes and situations of the story aren't noticeably interesting or involving. With this level of writing, Zebra Lounge could have easily been another crappy, direct-to-DVD project cluttering up the shelves of video stores across the country.
What saves it from that fate is some genuinely good acting and a director who strikes just the right tone to make this kind of movie better than it should be. Ledford and Daddo are perfectly believably as a married couple trying to save their relationship. They seem like a real union, not two people who happen to be stuck together. They give Wendy and Alan a casual ease around each other, while showing legitimate concern for their partner's emotions and state of mind. Even with the sex problem, Ledford and Daddo create the sort of relationship on screen that everyone wants out of their marriage. They actually make you accept that Wendy and Alan are two normal people who turn to wife-swapping because they just don't know what else to do to rekindle their passion.
Stephen Baldwin also does a fine job as Jack. He takes what could have been a very over-the-top, psycho stalker role and gives the character real human neediness. He doesn't let Jack become too menacing, too quickly. For the first half of the film he's less a threat and more like a person with no boundaries who's just very insistent on being your friend.
Kari Skogland's direction matches the work of her cast. Not only does the movie look good and the story flow well, she creates a different tone for this sort of thing. There's a light touch to every scene that keeps the film from every taking itself too seriously, yet it never completely falls back into trashy melodrama.
The awfulness of the two kids playing Wendy and Alan's children illustrate how much better Zebra Lounge is than this kind of movie usually is. They're terrible actors and they're so much worse than everything else in the movie, the contrast highlights the non-awfulness of the rest of the film.
This isn't a great film, to be sure, but it's a clear cut above most of the dreck in its genre.