There’s not a whole lot of nostalgia for nineties television because the medium, in a terrible growing pains phase, was garbage. The television of yesterday lived on in repeats and syndication like nuggets of gold from a past era, and the television of today is considered a safe haven for artists and storytellers like David Simon and Matthew Weiner. But the nineties, hoo boy. Premium cable was just busting out, and in between the endless re-airings of movies, which grew less novel as DVD swept the nation, they had to air something. Frequently it was smut.
But it was disguised smut, tasteful smut. The sort of smut you could watch in case anyone was looking over your shoulder. Nope, no smut here, you’d say. Just stories and drama! There was a lot of stuff like “Red Shoe Diaries,” which shot sex scenes through soap filters so that if you sought titillation, you’d have to squint, and only after you sat through twenty minutes of meeting-cute (or meeting scary!). Of course, this became more amusing if you were a kid without cable, and you caught the scrubbed-up edited versions of shows like this, or even “The Hitchhiker,” and you’d basically have to squint even harder, or outright project sexual behavior, if only to distract from the C-level acting and shoddy production value.
If you were looking for that return to passion-less syndicated smut, it’s a good thing you’ve got “Sweet Talk.” Seemingly beamed in from 1992, this low budget two-hander focuses on a couple named, egah, Samson and Delilah. Delilah (Natalie Zea) is just floating by, an actress who now gladly shares an apartment, and phone sex operation, with a friend. They run in shifts, and Delilah often finds herself cradling a paper bag as she assumes her shift, drinking from something a bit stronger than what the night has to offer. Zea is gorgeous, distractingly so: she most resembles Olivia Wilde, but with a sharper arch to her eyebrow, more sarcastic, more cynical. It’s a hard sort of beauty.
Samson (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) is, by contrast, considerably softer. And by soft, he’s practically nonexistent. Samson is one of those struggling writers who can’t pay the rent despite an implausibly huge apartment room. Get this—he even has a scene where he promises the landlord that rent is on the way! With no money, and with a whole night to himself, he opts to call a phone sex line, because the internet doesn’t exist and this is probably a script that’s been lying around for twenty years. And for $20 bucks a pop, with a $2.99 charge for every minute after! Samson is loaded!
He reaches Delilah, and the two of them have a one-on-one where they’re sizing each other up. She’s terrible at staying on topic and getting his credit card information, and he’s playing hard-to-get because that’s what jerks do when they call sex hotlines. His method of flirting seems to be the sort that used to clog up terrible nineties broadcast television, that sass-talking cute guy who overdid the charm and made a bunch of jokes without punchlines. Imagine a hellish crossbreed of Freddy Rodriguez‘s puckishness and John Stamos‘ shit-eating confidence. The worst parts of that, yeah.
He opts to share with her a fantasy not of sexuality, but of Budapest, and in tacky rear-projection cut-aways, Zea and Parise act out a love story, one that keeps evolving and inexplicably seducing her. He’s a killer, she’s a count’s wife, and the two of them aren’t meant to be together, but she can’t resist his… well, he’s pushy. The count is played by John Glover, who does double duty as a homeless man earlier in the film. And anybody who remembers those episodes of “Red Shoe Diaries” remembers that guys like Glover always made a little bread on the side standing around while a couple of day-players made out.
Soon, Delilah becomes wrapped up in his (costly) fantasy, and the two of them are trading barbs and playing out an elaborate roleplay scenario that plays out like all those ’80s and ’90s cable shows but without the eroticism. There’s one tacky rear-projection makeout moment, which never raises the temperature because these two have zero chemistry. Aside from that, it’s a meandering whodunit-type story that melds their dreams and fantasies together into one cocktail of train hopping and bullet dodging. It’s all very cheap, wholly unconvincing, and loaded with dull narration.
Not a surprise that director Terri Hanauer has a background in this sort of thing. Hanauer, making her directorial debut, logged some time on Showtime‘s “Zane’s Sex Chronicles,” modeled after the bodega-quality erotic fiction written by the prolific Zane. Her takeaway seems to be capturing images with poor depth of image, working with z-grade actors, and failing to convincingly create a real world relationship. Maybe a bit of sex would have livened it up. For nostalgia’s sake. [D-]
“Sweet Talk” is now playing in Los Angeles.