Imagine you're an alien zipping along in your flying saucer with a little spare time on your... hands... or, whatever. You're kicking back with the alien-equivalent of a brewski, flipping through the alien equivalent of cable TV when you come across a nature documentary on this primitive race of critters called "Humans." Before you know it, you're sucked into watching how these strange and irrational beings live, court, and mate. Though it makes no sense whatsoever, it's sure more entertaining than watching the alien equivalent of the Home Shopping Network. Such is the clever premise of Jeff Abugov's ingenious and hysterical satire "Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human." Like some entry from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," structured along the lines of, say, "Wild Kingdom," "Mating Habits..." follows The Male (Mackenzie Astin) and The Female (gulp, Carmen Electra) as they perform the elaborate dance we call "dating," but Narrator David Hyde Pierce ("Frazier") elevates to the much loftier-sounding Mating Ritual. Electra, surprisingly enough, and Astin hold up their end of the bargain as they navigate the traditional perils of a burgeoning relationship: the First Kiss, the Meeting of the Parents, the First... You Know. All are clinically and comically chronicled by Pierce's unflappable narrator who easily steals this show. Picture a very chipper Niles from "Frazier" confidentally calling the penis a "Seed Shooter" and you get the idea. Throw in the best on-screen human sperm bits since Woody Allen's "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afrais to Ask" and you've got a winner. We're certainly an odd lot, we humans. But, interesting and entertaining as this clever film certainly is, imagine if The Male had been Electra's real life hubby Dennis Rodman. I wonder if aliens watch freak shows, too.
The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human, a mockumentary that charts and analyzes the courtship behavior of two healthy, young Homo sapiens, begins with the disembodied voice of an intellectually advanced extraterrestrial (David Hyde Pierce) informing us that "of all the beings in the universe, none possess the mating ritual as complex as the earthbound human." How true.
It's a novel premise for what would otherwise be a standard boy-meets-girl romantic comedy and the film's greatest strength is the deadpan narration of Hyde Pierce (whose cadence as the know-it-all alien is similar to that of his fussy "Frasier" character Niles). Abugov's script too is quite funny and there are several laugh-out-loud scenes, particularly in the movie's first half, as well as some surprisingly deft insights into the quandaries of finding a mate, or for that matter, a date.
"Mating" is at its best when skewering the sometimes absurd aspects of dating, like the well-intentioned but often ill-advised advice of friends who suddenly become relationship experts, provided they're discussing someone else's.
For example, when Billy's best friend and co-worker tells him that if he really likes Jenny he should not call her for at least a week, because if he does call right away she might think he likes her, our friendly narrator interrupts to tell us that there is in fact no problem with the transmitting signal; we are hearing the friend's courting advice correctly even though it doesn't make sense. It's a human thing.
Overall, it's a cute movie, and Astin and Electra are pleasant leads. But a special mention needs to be made of Kurt Bryant, the "stunt and sperm coordinator" for some of the film's funniest segments in which the alien explains the actual process of fertilizing a human ovum. It's an alien thing.
Well, shucks... I thought that I'd never get another shot at seeing this flick. It played the festival circuit and I'd never gotten the chance to see it though I had heard great buzz on the film throughout the festivals that it played. BUT, the luck is with me and alot of you as well. Seems the film has been picked up and Smilin' Jack Ruby was Johnny on the Spot with the third row view... Heeeeeeeres Jack!.... (---Harry Knowles)
Hey Harry, Smilin' Jack Ruby here!
Thought with all the flap over the new "Star Wars" pic, I might as well submit a review of a much smaller film as an alternative. I have no idea when it will be released domestically, but it will be going through Columbia TriStar when it does.
I saw "The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human" awhile back and remember mostly the fact that the audience didn't stop laughing the entire time, definitely a good sign. The plot concerns the meeting and subsequent courtship of two people, Billy Waterston (played by MacKenzie Astin) and Jenny Smith (played by Carmen Electra), as they progress from lustful early dating, to sex, to parenting, to marriage and all the trials therein. The set-up, however, is that what you are watching is actually a documentary of human relations for an unknown alien species to watch, which is the strong point of the pic as David Hyde Pierce provides the narration.
David Hyde Pierce is damn funny on "Frasier" and functionally plays that same character here (never seen, however) - the always analyzing and frankly condescending at times, Niles Crane. He narrates it from start to finish and, as can be expected, pokes fun at almost every nuance of human interaction.
This kind of thing has been seen before, the documentary of human existence as comedy for other species to watch (Constance Congdon's play "Tales of the Lost Formicans" comes to mind), but this one had just the right tone to really keep people laughing and would play well on the indie circuit sometime in mid-summer. It was written and directed by first time filmmaking, longtime TV-writer Jeff Abugov and produced by ShadowCatcher who last year brought us "Smoke Signals." Larry Estes, one of the producers who introduced the film to that night's audience, has been responsible for green-lighting a long list of films in his career and has been involved in everything from "sex, lies, and videotape" and "Passion Fish," to the notorious "Dark Backward," truly one of the oddest films on record.
For those who are dying to know if Carmen Electra takes her clothes off, let it be said that I never found the nudity in this film to be exploitive as it is in a lot of fare. By stating as much, it assures the viewer that she most certainly does take her clothes off without sounding so much the lech.
Anyway, if this film comes to your town, I can certainly see spending the afternoon watching this pic in the local arthouse as a real alternative to all the dreck playing at the mall (I shouldn't say that as I just saw the excellent "Election" at a mall). Listening to David Hyde Pierce's narration and the occasional surreal aberration that pokes it's way into this stylized first-time effort is definitely worth the price of admission. It also proves, to those who thought otherwise, that Carmen Electra actually does have acting talent, despite the roles that have otherwise inundated her credit list.
Financed by Columbia Tri-Star, this SXSW screening seemed to indicate that no distributor had picked up this movie. I hope that changes soon because Mating Habits is a mighty amusing film. It takes what could have been a one-joke idea that should only have made for a 20 minute film, and filled a screening room with loud, sincere laughter. First time feature director Jeff Abugov honed his comedic talents in sitcoms (successful ones) for 12 years before thinking up the concept of what if we, humans, were subjects of a National Geographic-style documentary. He said that he was watching some nature show and the narrator was saying how this tortoise stands over the eggs to warm them and to keep away predators, and he thought, how do we know that? And a screenplay was born. Mating Habits is a fake documentary from the perspective of a community of extra-terrestrial beings who look at us much as we look at the bonobo monkeys. They even have coined the phrase, "f*#k like people*" because of our amusing and primitive sexual process.
Mackenzie Astin and Carmen Electra play the male and the female, and in 20 days they shot one surprisingly funny movie. David Hyde Pierce, a.k.a. Niles, narrates, and with a perfect mix of arch superiority and naive charm gives an outsiders' perspective on our peculiar games that we play when trying to Make the Hookup. We hear our own lives' dialogue and it's dead-on, both for the males and the females, and while some jokes are easy or cliche (like waiting 2 days to call her to seem cool), many of them are sociologically very insightful and funny. It's so true at times, it's almost heartbreaking. But it's always funny. A huge bonus is the documentarian's inability to illustrateconception graphically - they use, well, people. It's really really funny. I don't want to say any more but it's ulra wacky. Every time this particular section of the movie started up, the whole audience was rolling and crying. Watch and listen also for quick,Star Trekker nods to including alternative planets' species and events when listing examples for the presumed audience.
I couldn't imagine this movie being released wide into "real theaters," but at the same time I really hope it will be. It's very funny and definitely original and clever. It opens strong and actually maintains the humor and tone throughout. As soon as it seems like it might be flagging (human plot-wise), the narrator steps in and renders a new perspective and brings it right back up to speed again. The actual romantic hookup of Electra and Astin (never thought you'd hear those names used like that, did you?) is interesting enough to sustain a film to a degree - and the narrator's schtick is used sparingly enough that it too could be a funny short film just with still photos. Together it's a sharp, funny little movie.
© 1999 Karina Montgomery. Please feel free to forward but just credit the reviewer in the text. Thanks. firstname.lastname@example.org