There's never been quite so much sex and skin in theaters.
A warming trend is moving our way. The weather is cooling, but movie screens are heating up.
As we bundle up, actors are shedding their clothes, and inhibitions, in movies that flaunt R and NC-17 ratings -- as well as a lot of male and female flesh.
The latest gust in the heat wave, "Lust, Caution," opening today, boasts lovemaking scenes that are raw and passionate. Ang Lee's World War II suspense film concerns a Chinese actress recruited to seduce a high-ranking collaborator with the occupying Japanese and set him up for assassination. Tony Leung, a major star in Asia, and newcomer Tang Wei attack each other with a sweaty, urgent ferocity in line with the story's life-and-death stakes.
The film's producers accepted the film's NC-17 rating -- meaning no one 17 or younger will be admitted -- rather than edit out the dramatically potent sequences.
This week's other high-profile opening, "The Heartbreak Kid," also features extended scenes of fervent sex and nudity, but they're played as taboo-tweaking slapstick. The farce, starring Ben Stiller as a wayward honeymooner, is the Farrelly brothers' first foray into R-rated comedy since "There's Something About Mary," and they push for all the shock value, freewheeling raunch and male adolescent sexual embarrassment that the category allows.
We should have seen it coming. In the past few weeks, theaters welcomed a pair of adult-oriented romantic comedies. Writer/director Robert Benton's "Feast of Love" has as much sex and nudity as his screenwriting debut, "Bonnie and Clyde," had violence: plenty. And Jessica Alba proved that stardom has its privileges by being just about the only actress in "Good Luck Chuck" who doesn't peel down to her skin.
Don't forget David Cronenberg's mob thriller "Eastern Promises," which features a bravura four-minute sequence in which Viggo Mortensen, naked in a bathhouse, is attacked by knife-wielding killers.
The trend might have been precipitated by the surprise success of 2005's R-rated "Wedding Crashers" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," which proved that with good reviews and strong word of mouth, films don't have to be PG-13 to turn a big profit. In August, "Superbad" became the 11th R-rated comedy to top $100 million, the fourth in the past three years. ("The Simpsons Movie," another top earner, squeaked by with a PG-13 classification despite a brief glimpse of Bart's privates.) R-rated Internet trailers (or red-band trailers, as they're officially called) have become a Web phenomenon, generating excitement with scenes of sex and violence that would restrict them from theater play.
The movement toward exposing actors promises to continue. Later this month, Oscar winners Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei perform a nude scene of strong graphic sexuality in Sidney Lumet's crime thriller "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." And a few weeks later Angelina Jolie will go naked -- at least in the form of her look-alike digital representation -- in the computer-animated "Beowulf." It's going to be an unusually sultry winter.
Colin Covert 612-673-7186