Cougars, Inc. Review

Main review based on the earlier German release of the movie which goes under the name of Loverboys.  After the review is an addendum regarding differences between it and the North American DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Box Art 1Cougars, Inc.

Written and directed by Asher Levin.  Starring Kathryn Morris, Kyle Gallner, Denise Richards and Jim Belushi. You can find full cast and crew details on IMDb.  Filmed in early 2010 and released in April/May of 2011 the movie is described as “a tale of sex, love and high school tuition.”

Plot Summary

Sam (Kyle Gallner) is a young man with a chequered history in education.  He may be smart but he’s got himself kicked out of a lot of schools.  We find him in the latest.  It might just be his last chance and it doesn’t start well, getting involved in fights all too quickly.  Luckily for Sam school principal Dan (Jim Belushi) sees him as a kindred spirit, reminding him of his own misspent youth.  Unluckily Sam’s mother, a glamour model, is unable to pay his tuition fees thus putting an end to his stay at the school before it’s even started.

After being stood up by Courtney (Sarah Hyland), a girl of his own age he just met, Sam tries to drown his sorrows in the bar of a nearby hotel.  Here he bumps into Alison (Kathryn), a lonely housewife and mother whose husband is cheating on her.  One thing leads to another and they spend the night together in a hotel room.  Having found out about Sam’s financial issues Alison takes pity on the young man and leaves him some money as a thank you for showing her some much needed attention.

One of Sam’s school friends (Ryan Pinkston), hearing how he spent the previous night and the monetary gift hits upon the idea of repeating the experience with other women (the titular cougars) and his fellow male students.  The plan is to use the money to pay for Sam’s tuition, allowing him to stay at school.

Alison’s friend Judy (Denise Richards) independently has the same thought and so “Cougars, Inc.” (though the name is never used) is born, roping in more women (Rebecca Mader and Catalina Rodriguez among them) and young men.  Of course such actions have consequences and things fall apart.  School master Dan is Judy’s husband and he’s Courtney’s father.  Alison is more invested in their relationship than Sam.  What about Courtney and Sam?

Review

This is a fan site for Kathryn Morris but we must not allow our love for Kathryn to prevent us from an objective assessment of projects that she is involved in.  This is a review of the movie as a whole and not just Kathryn’s performance.

First off let’s get out the way the idea that this film is a comedy.  It isn’t.  Yes, there are few humorous moments but it is not played for laughs or funny enough to justify having the label foisted upon it.  Marketing it as such will only cause disappointment in people expecting an American Pie-style movie.

At its heart the film is a sort of love triangle between Sam, Alison and Courtney.  You wouldn’t know it from many of the reviews though.  I’ve read several in which Alison (and by extension Kathryn) and her relationship with Sam hardly get a mention.  It says a lot that the emotional element is being overlooked.

The movie makes several significant leaps in the plot and assumes that you’ll just accept them.  The first is the idea that the women would happily pay not insignificant amounts of money for the company of these young men.  Alison had not paid for her time with Sam, only giving him a present afterwards to help him out.  Judy and Alison argue about the idea of her friends getting involved in these paid for “play dates.”  Which brings us to the second leap.  Suddenly Alison is helping to arrange the first party, and seemingly quite happy to do so.  Why the change of heart?

There are signs of Alison’s discomfort with the arrangements and Sam’s protectiveness of her in some of the snapshots we see that make up the scenes of the second party.  Even that is not consistent because in some photos Alison looks like she is enjoying the party and in others not at all happy.  It is not really followed up though.  The same goes of the Sam/Courtney relationship.  Almost nothing then, bang, everything.

So to the elephant in the room: Kathryn’s sex scenes.  Which do involve rooms, but no elephants.  Here’s where the fan gets to write for a while.  Yes, Kathryn is basically naked in three scenes but never in a gratuitous fashion.  When Sam and Alison’s first time together becomes their first time together we are presented with well put together erotic encounter.  The moody lighting, i.e. dark, and use of slow movements and out of focus shots gives it a very sultry feel.  The following scene of them discussing what just happened is a highlight for many reasons, mainly the showcasing of Kathryn’s amazing body.  I’m not sure it is possible for any woman to look hotter than she does in just panties and Sam’s unzipped leather jacket.  I have to wonder whether Asher added in the “you have an amazing ass” line after casting Kathryn.  Scene two is after the first play date and Kathryn is actually sans clothing, lying on her stomach on the bed.  Again, nothing gratuitous, its a low angle just the line of her body is visible.  In the third, Alison and Sam’s break-up, she slides out from under the duvet, away from the camera and puts her dress on.  Clearly she is nude to start with but we only get to see her back.

Frankly, I have mixed feelings about these scenes.  In many ways it is just what I want to see, and wanted to for a long time, but at the same time they made me a little uncomfortable.  From the drunk woman who seduces a teen-aged boy to the loud swearing during the arguments with her friends, those used to seeing Kathryn in the buttoned-down role of Lilly Rush it is quite a shock to see her like this.

Fan hat off.  Reviewer hat back on.

Talking of the sex scenes, during that second party the movie goes all Caligula on us.  Additional photos and a scene of one guy, who looks far too old to be one of students, videotaping himself with a woman we’ve not seen before are so out of place it’s ridiculous.  That and the attempt to drag in the website Cougars Life with another scene that was almost certainly made well after principal photography just look wrong.  They add nothing and detract plenty.

Whilst on the subject of things being out of place the continuity goes to pot on several occasions too.  For example, Alison is distinctly the worse for wear in the bar scene, slurring her speech and nearly spilling her drink.  In the lift on the way up to the hotel room she is looking cleaned up and perfectly sober.  Shots from that lift scene are also used to show Alison leaving after the later break-up scene, which means the clothes don’t match.  And we could be really pedantic and point out that some of the “questions” used as chapter headings aren’t actually questions.

With Denise Richards, Jim Belushi, Kyle Gallner and Rebecca Mader alongside Kathryn in the film it could be said to have an impressive cast given its small scale and budget.  All four of them put in fine turns: Denise as a loud, brassy friend up for some fun, Jim as the school principal still trying to rebel in some way, Kyle as the troubled teen and Rebecca as the deliverer of some comic lines.  Jim in particular should be singled out in his role as the world weary mentor.  He, with Kathryn and Kyle, deliver much of the depth the film is striving for.  Rather than pretending it’s a comedy the dramatic elements should have been expanded, making full use of the acting talents available.  Luckily for all involved the film appears to be largely passing the mainstream media by so they are unlikely to be hurt too much by it.

Sadly the film is lacking.  It can’t decide if it is a comedy or a drama.  Veering between the two sides means missing both.  Plot holes.  Poor continuity.  Characters not well rounded.  Things happen with little explanation.  Inevitably scenes will have been filmed that were edited out or shortened for various reasons.  It would be interesting to know if ten or 20 minutes of such footage were to be restored and some of the trashier elements removed whether we’d be be left with something more satisfying.  We should, however, give some congratulations to Asher Levin for putting together the project on such a small budget and with such big names.  It is a shame that he failed to make more of them, it wouldn’t have cost any more to do so.  And we should thank him for getting Kathryn involved and having her play such a character.

I’ve long thought there is a distinct difference between a “film” and a “movie” even though most of the time the words are used interchangeably, even in this review.  A “movie” is more at the blockbuster end of the market and a “film” more thoughtful.  What we have here is a movie that really should be a film.

Technically things are much better.  The picture quality of the Blu-ray is excellent.  Little graining and no visible artefacts, though many scenes are a little too dark and some have a brown tint to them.  The extras are disappointing though.  This European release includes only a simple photo gallery (see the images that include Kathryn HERE) and a copy of the movie trailer.

For avid Kathryn fans Cougars, Inc. is a must.  She’s the best thing in it.  Yes, a little bias has crept in there but her character is the heart of it.  It is Alison’s journey, along with Sam’s, and Kathryn deals with the emotional range and carries it off in the manner we’d expect of her.  For everyone else I would not recommend it.

Cougars, Inc., under the name Loverboys, was available on Blu-ray and DVD rated FSK 16 in Germany from the 21st April 2011.  In North America the R rated discs will be launched on the 10th May 2011.

Box Art 3Addendum for North American Release

The external packaging and menu graphics of the discs are different from Loverboys, using images from the promo video shoot as backgrounds rather than just using the cover we are so familiar with.

The key changes between the releases, however, are in the extras.  There is no photo gallery of on set images here and the movie trailers are plugging different films.  The main event and biggest and most important addition is the cast commentary involving Kathryn, Kyle Gallner and K. Asher Levin.  All the Ks.  ‘Kay.

DVD commentaries tend to fall into two traps.  The first is all the ‘X was great to work with’ and ‘Y is such an amazing actor’ backslapping and ‘it was sooo much fun to make’ stuff which gets a bit annoying.  Second is technical details of the scenes being made, which rarely work well because before they are able to get into it the scene changes.  Here we get quite a lot of the former and very little of the latter, not that this is the sort of film that requires describing on that level.

In the commentary several things are discussed relating to Kathryn (that’s why we’re here after all) that are worthy of note.  Kathryn’s early scenes were shot after she’d completed a very long day’s shoot on Cold Case, which the producers of the TV drama may not have liked.  She was able to go method on the tired and emotional thing.  Another, and this could be very telling regarding the issues the film as with the lack of structure, was that Asher took many suggestions from the cast about scenes and dialogue. I’m sure that in most films the script is altered a bit as they go through the rehearsals and filming process and other small changes are made.  Here the discussion brings to light that the final scene between Kathryn and Kyle, the one where Alison and Sam meet in the street, was added at Kathryn’s suggestion.  She wanted her character of Alison to been seen to get some closure on the relationship.  It got her more screen time as well, which I’m sure wasn’t her motivation 😉

With that and other comments regarding changes to the film made based on recommendations from key cast members and the production company (there was some bitterness in Asher’s voice at that point) it does suggest that Asher was not as in control of his film as he’d liked to have been.

It is clear from the commentary that Kathryn and Kyle got on very well, and she has much affection for him.  She often has fun at Kyle’s expense by making comments regarding the less-clothed time they spent together.  He’s a little more awkward about it.  It is nice to hear Kathryn talking for such a long time even if the commentary as a whole is not great.

The final new extra is Cougars 101, an execrable short film of young guys much like our film’s ‘heroes’, talking about their ideas on cougars.  We’ve seen some of this footage before in the videos from the première.