Dancer-actress Anita Morris, with her torrid red mane and outrageously voluptuous torso, comes close to being the human equivalent of Roger Rabbit’s Jessica. She can turn herself into an incarnation of all-American pneumatic sex. But up to now, Morris, who is terrific in small doses, hasn’t really adjusted her stage style to the movies.
In “A Sinful Life” (opening today for a two-week run at the Nuart), Morris has exactly the right kind of role. She plays a sexy, soused, self-parodying dream-goddess of chintzy lust. The movie is a low-budget version of the recent L.A. Groundlings play “Just Like the Pom Pom Girls,” and Morris has the star role of Claire Vin Blanc, which playwright-scenarist-actress Melanie Graham played on stage. It’s a ripe, fruity, delectable role and, in it, Morris’ zaftig hamminess billows happily against the movie’s other star turn: Blair Tefkin as the surreally arrested, time-warped Baby.
Tefkin’s Baby is a weird, fiercely grinning, nasal-compulsive descendant of Lily Tomlin’s snuffling tots and Fanny Brice’s Baby Snooks. (The 20ish Tefkin’s age is never rationalized.) And her mama, Morris’ Claire, is the ultimate Hollywood poseur: a “retired” dancer-floozy-hooker living in blowzily cheerful squalor in the Franklin-Cahuenga area.
Drifting along in a semi-alcoholic slothful haze, lazily lapsing into casual affairs with the janitor (Rick Overton), seducing her sanctimonious, Bible-thumping neighbor (Dennis Christopher) to obtain her ideal of aesthetic furnishing--a peach-colored love seat--Claire Vin Blanc somehow incarnates part of the soul of ‘80s Hollywood. She’s the rental queen of that partially gutted little dream ghetto, ringed with cherished landmarks, side streets crammed with drug dealers, prostitutes and wanna-bes.
The villains here are macho slobs, meddling bureaucrats, fatties and religious fanatics. The good guys are retired show-biz types, hookers, bizarrely overgrown children and wisecracking transvestites: eccentrics with style. It’s a frivolous piece that plays like a bawdy, opportunistic sitcom. But director William Schreiner, who also staged the Groundlings version, knows where the laughs are. Mostly, he pushes the right buttons. Sometimes, as in one bout of cockroach lust, he pushes too hard.
“A Sinful Life” (MPAA-rated R, for sex and language) is basically sound stage-bound with occasional soft-focus outdoor excursions. It ignores what might have been a wonderful modern location: contemporary central Hollywood. A shame. This area is an untapped resource, a great sleazy, pungently human reservoir for which Claire Vin Blanc would have been a perfect off-centerpiece.
It’s another case of life wasted in the movies, in a story, ironically, about how movie dreams can sinfully waste a life.