MOVIE REVIEW : Blake Edwards’ Latest Only ‘Skin Deep’

Times Staff Writer

Blake Edwards’ “Skin Deep” (citywide) has a couple of the funniest moments Edwards ever devised; it has John Ritter’s easy-to-take charm, but it ends up living up to its title far too closely.

Ritter’s Zach has it all. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, a novelist and screenwriter. He has a bright, attractive wife (crisply played by Alyson Reed), who’s a TV newscaster, a profession that in the movies defines the successful contemporary woman. He lives the Southern California life style at its most sybaritic. You have the feeling that this is a man who hasn’t stepped outside Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Malibu for year, except possibly to escape to other equally luxe locales; by the end of the film you’re left feeling that this may be true of Edwards as well.

The film opens with a hilarious double whammy that starts Zach spinning out of control even before the laughter starts fading. From then on it’s a downhill slide for Zach. Already plagued by writer’s block, he gives in to compulsive womanizing, followed by incipient alcoholism and eventual impotence.


“Skin Deep” is a film of moments, some of which are terrific, others considerably less so. The glamour girls, with their great sheafs of shining hair, are interchangeable, but there are nice turns by Vincent Gardenia as Zach’s barkeep pal and by Nina Foch as his chic mother-in-law, perhaps the only woman in the world who has never been charmed by him. There’s real sweetness and humor in Raye Hollit’s body builder, and once again Edwards proves himself one of the few American film makers able, or willing, to present a gay couple (in this instance played distinctively by Peter Donat and Don Gordon) without a fuss.

As adept as Edwards is at using humor to set off Zach’s self-destructiveness, to capture the dark undertow of high living, he ends up letting Zach off the hook shamelessly. It’s as if Edwards said to himself: “The poor guy has suffered long enough, and, besides, we’re running out of time.”

Never has a happy ending been so thoroughly unearned. For all his charm, honesty and intelligence--you have no trouble understanding his appeal to a wide variety of women--Zach does nothing to help himself as he gives in to epic self-indulgence. Then in his turnaround, we’re given the impression that stopping drinking and turning out a best seller are snaps for Zach. (That his wife would even consider taking him back after his progressively outrageous behavior is also confounding.)

In short, “Skin Deep” is a male sex fantasy that says that if you’re sufficiently rich, famous and good-looking, you can go into the most self-destructive of tailspins and still land on your feet without any real effort.

It’s chilling to imagine “Skin Deep” (rated R for sex and language, adult situations) without Ritter, who through sheer dint of his own likability, never quite loses our sympathy for Zach. (This admittedly may not be true for some women in the audience; NOW is unlikely to choose the film for a benefit premiere.) Ritter and Edwards clearly have a strong rapport and plan to work together again. Perhaps the next time will rate a “10.”


A 20th Century Fox release of a Morgan Creek presentation of a BECO production. Executive producer Joe Roth, James G. Robinson. Producer Tony Adams. Writer-director Blake Edwards. Camara Isidore Mankofsky. Music supervisor Tom Bocci. Associate producer Trish Caroselli. Production designer Rodger Maus. Costumes Nolan Miller. 2nd unit director/stunt coordinator Joe Dunne. Film editor Robert Pergament. With John Ritter, Vincent Gardenia, Alyson Reed, Joel Brooks, Julianne Phillips, Chelsea Field, Peter Donat, Don Gordon, Nina Foch, Denise Crosby, Michael Kidd, Dee Dee Rescher, Bryan Genesse, Bo Foxworth, Raye Hollit, Sol Vang Tanney.

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).