Cougars, Inc. (Blu-Ray)
“It’s 10 PM: do you know where your mother is?” asks the tagline of COUGARS, INC., the debut feature of short film director K. Asher Levin. I can honestly say that that is a question I have literally never asked or have been asked – though as a tagline it actually does its job, neatly summing up the film and the baffled reaction it elicited from me.
Sam (Kyle Gallner, perhaps best known as “Beaver” Casablancas from Veronica Mars) is a problem student with a couple problems of his own. Kicked out of one elite prep academy after another for his behavior, he has finally settled at a boarding school he likes – or rather, one with a girl he likes, Courtney (Sarah Hyland) and an affable headmaster, Dan (John Belushi) who has taken a shine to the young delinquent. The problem is that Sam’s fashion-model mother has blown her tuition wad and can’t afford to keep Sam at the school another semester; meanwhile, Courtney has stood him up for their date. Dejected, Sam slips into a hotel bar where he meets Alison (Kathryn Morris), a lonely but beautiful older mom, one thing leads to another, and they end up in bed together – and then she goes home, leaving Sam a giant check for services rendered.
Hearing his story the next day, Sam’s friends have a brainstorm: why not cater to the needs of these older women, have some fun, and pay off his tuition at the same time? Faster than you can say “music montage,” they’re in business (risky business, even), pimping themselves out to a parade of incredibly beautiful, rich, yet inexplicably dateless over-40 women. Of course, Courtney starts to like the new, confident Sam, but so does Alison, his older client/paramour. Complications ensue, which aren’t helped when it’s discovered that one of Sam’s most faithful clients, Judy (Denise Richards) is the wife of the dean!
It’s silly, of course, but as a child of the 1980s I can tell you there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned sex comedy. From H.O.T.S. to MEATBALLS to AMERICAN PIE, these sort of movies may not be high art, but they deliver laughs, however juvenile, and precious nudity, however fleeting. The only problem is that despite everything I’ve just told you, COUGARS, INC. isn’t one of those movies! This is a classic case of misleading marketing in action; while writer-director K. Asher Levin apparently thought he was making a sensitive independent movie about older women looking for love and a boy torn between innocence and experience – something hinted at in the film’s wistful original title, MOTHER’S LITTLE HELPERS – someone at Lionsgate clearly had other ideas and decided to sell this as if it were wall-to-wall sex and hijinks. Whoops.
The problem is that COUGARS, INC. really isn’t much of anything. Levin gives his characters dialogue that is actually sometimes hip and interesting, and he really wants to say something about the chance of love between two people of wildly different ages, but he has loaded the story up with one ridiculous, unbelievable thing after another – the idea that Denise Richards is married to a prep school dean played by Jim Belushi being just one of them. But it isn’t a sex comedy, either; there is a bit of nudity (none of the erstwhile Mrs. Charlie Sheen, alas), and there are some jokes, but it isn’t a particularly funny movie. It’s not even a failed comedy, because it wasn’t trying to be funny in the first place.
None of this is the fault of the actors, who acquit themselves well. I really like Kyle Gallner and hope to see him in more and better movies soon; Kathryn Morris also does good work with a cliché part, and her reaction to seeing her young boy-toy slipping away is both convincing and sad. Even Denise Richards, not noted as a great thespian, does her best and looks fantastic. Levin’s direction is competent and the movie has real production value, with slick camerawork and convincing locations; it’s just that all this effort, these performances and this direction, are in the service of a story that can’t figure out what it wants to be.
Video: COUGARS, INC. is an okay-looking movie, and the 2.35:1 Blu-Ray transfer certainly doesn’t hurt it, but this isn’t one you’re going to pop in to show off your rig.
Audio: The movie features a 5.1 DTS-HD surround mix that is heavy on dialogue and light on everything else; the rear channels and bass only really come into play during the party and club scenes, but even when they do the dialogue (the key element of the audio mix for any movie like this) remains clear and intelligible.
Commentary with director K. Asher Levin, Kyle Gallner, and Kathryn Morris – This is one of the chattier commentaries I’ve listened to lately, which I usually prefer to dead air, but unfortunately this is one of those where the people making it seem to have had a lot more fun than comes through for we the listeners. They laugh and giggle about half-finished anecdotes that we never hear the punchlines to, and while Levin is an enthusiastic commentator his stars admit they have never seen the finished movie before now. Whoops. Nonetheless, film students might be interested to hear Levin recount his issues with the changes forced into the movie by the studio and various cast members, which could go a long way toward explaining why a film clearly meant to be a hip coming-of-age story like JUNO ended up feeling like a weird mix of AMERICAN PIE and THE GRADUATE.
Deleted Scene (3:01) – yep, that’s scene. One scene, featuring a bit more of Sam’s early conversation with the Dean when he learns his mother can’t make tuition.
Cougars 101 (2:58) – A bizarre man-on-the-street featurette giving us a bunch of bros who try and explain what cougars are and how to attract them. It’s short, but oh so skeevy.