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ZEBRA LOUNGE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kristy Swanson, Stephen Baldwin, Brandy Ledford, Cameron Daddo
Director:  Kari Skogland
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Trailer, Photo Gallery, Filmographies
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  January 8, 2002

“I fantasized about him while we were making love.”

“Both times?”

Film **  

Zebra Lounge is as good a title as any.  It refers to the nightclub where two couples pre-arrange a first meeting, and then is never mentioned again.  But Swingers was already taken. 

Title notwithstanding, this is a picture about a normal couple who engages in an erotic adventure with a stranger couple, and end up way over their heads.  It’s a thriller that hits and misses, but is frankly never boring.  Even though the ending is a fairly foregone conclusion, exploring the path that leads to the finale is an interesting journey in and of itself.

Wendy (Ledford) and Alan Barnet (Daddo) are a typical suburban couple with a pair of kids, two cars, a nice house…and problems.  Though they seem to have a good relationship in all other aspects, the bedroom activity has been troublesome.  Both are trying to work a spark back into their lives, but without success.  “Rub some cream on my back,” she suggests.  “I don’t want to get grease all over my papers,” he replies.  Sheesh.

The answer, they conclude, is to find another attractive couple for a night of swap-the-spouse.  They place an ad, and seem to find just the right pair in Louise (Swanson) and Jack Bauer (Baldwin).  Though nervous at first, they concede to let the more experienced Louise and Jack lead the way for a night of pleasure.  (As an aside, the scenes are effectively erotic, but whose idea was it to play that damn cheesy music behind them like it was a porn film?)

It works for Wendy and Alan…they become a voracious couple again.  But their encounter with Louise and Jack was no passing event.  Imagine their surprise when their swinging couple friends show up unannounced at Wendy and Alan’s birthday party for their son!

A little weird, but no harm done…yet.  The audience, of course, will see what’s going on long before Wendy and Alan ever do.  Louise and Jack are a bit obsessive over their newfound friends.  Their presence in the Barnets’ lives grows from strangely benign (as when Jack helps Alan land a big contact for his business) to the unsettling…moments I wouldn’t think of giving away.

The conclusion, as mentioned, is something we know is coming from the start…the only question is, will the movie opt for the ending with teeth, or the safe, happier, but less believable route?  I’ll leave that for you to discover, also.

The premise isn’t a bad one, but there are weights that mire the story down in conventionality.  The four leading actors are all decent enough, but it doesn’t help them that they have to recite constantly silly lines like “I’ve never dressed for an orgy before”.  Or, my personal favorite, during an argument:  “I would have never done that!” screams Wendy.  “I was raised Catholic, for Christ’s sake!”

The direction by Kari Skogland ranges from the competently done scene to the film-school styled exercises in useless camera trickery.  A tennis doubles scene, for instance, is filled with gratuitous angles and movements that add nothing to the story.  It’s followed by two guys batting a ball back and forth that is horrendously edited…no sense of rhythm at all.

Was the entire purpose of creating the film an excuse to build around a couple of well executed, titillating sequences?  Arguably…but if that was the case, at least the audiences got their money’s worth with them.  A little more attention to other details might have made for a better picture, though.  As it stands, it keeps your attention the whole way, but doesn’t give you the impression you’ve seen much afterwards.

Video ***

Overall, this is a good transfer from Columbia Tri Star, but not anamorphic, and not quite up to par with their usual quality, and with a few problems worth noting.  Though most of the film looks quite good, with strong levels of detail, natural coloring, and images free of compression artifacts, there are some moments early on that look a bit soft, and a couple of dark ones near the end that get a little awash in murkiness and noticeable grain.  What’s good far outweighs the bad, however, so the overall marks are still good for this one.

Audio **1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack doesn’t offer much in the way of harnessing the rear stage or the .1 channel…in fact, I don’t recall the subwoofer kicking in at all during the presentation.  Most everything is on the front stage, with only minor bits of panning, but good clear dialogue and music, with no distortions or drop-outs.  It’s a perfectly serviceable audio track, but nothing spectacular.

Features *1/2

In addition to a trailer, the disc contains a small photo gallery, and some filmographies for the principals.

Summary:

When consensual game of spouse-trading leads to a deadly game of fatal attraction, you’ve probably crossed the threshold of the Zebra Lounge.  This potentially good thriller is thrown off track by some bad dialogue, inept direction, and a lack of courage to go for the gusto when it needed it most.  Erotic, however, it is…at least in a couple of scenes.  Maybe this disc will be enough to spark a few couples and keep them from placing that potentially disastrous want-ad.