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Separate Vacations

1986, Starring David Naughton, Jennifer Dale, Mark Keyloun, Lally Cadeau, Jackie Mahon. Directed by Michael Anderson (RSL Films).

Robert Lantos' upstart production company RSL had already cornered the market on Canadian-produced erotic thrillers when it decided to briefly team up with Hugh Hefner's Playboy Productions Inc. in the early 1980s to further exploit the burgeoning home video market. Their two collaborations, Heavenly Bodies and Separate Vacations, were intended as upscale sex comedies sophisticated but titillating fare parents could enjoy after their kids were soundly asleep.

Based on a book by Eric Weber and directed by Michael Anderson, a respected Brit who had scored earlier hits including the 1956 adaptation of Around the World in Eighty Days and Logan's Run, but had recently been consigned to lower budget productions, Separate Vacations is tailored specifically for the mid-life crisis crowd with a VHS player in the bedroom, depicting a bored married couple who have lost their romantic spark.

Jennifer Dale stars in the film alongside American import David Naughton as Sarah and Richard Moore, beleaguered parents who are too busy bringing up their screeching kids to find time for each other. Richard, a successful architect, embarrassingly fends of the flirtations of women at the office on a daily basis, but once he learns that his married friend (Tony Rosato) is cheating on his wife--and she on him--he begins to consider that an affair might inject some excitement back in his life. Begging off of a planned family ski trip, he takes off to Mexico under the pretense of studying some Mayan temples for a building project. On arriving, Richard tries desperately to hook up with a variety of eager young ladies including a guilt-ridden divorce, a Mexican prostitute, and--in the funniest moment of the film--his dream girl Shelly's (Susan Almgren) obnoxious husband, who insists on trying to join their tryst. Instead, it's his wife who finds herself in a compromising position on her vacation with a handsome young ski instructor, Jeff (Mark Keyloun). Returning home lovelorn, Richard discovers that Sarah is still at the ski lodge being seduced by Jeff, and heads out to confront her.

The result is a more adult version of adolescent fare like the Canadian-shot Screwballs, with an equally wafer-thin plot. In fact, Separate Vacations is pitifully predictable--there's never any concern that Richard and Sarah will actually break up over their stalled love life, and it's implicitly understood that any extramarital sexual escapades will only strengthen their union in the end unfulfilled by empty affairs, they will come to realize that its their partner that they truly love and reinvest in their future together. And that's precisely how the film plays out, with only one slight twist--Jeff refuses to give up his infatuation with Sarah, allowing the reunited couple to play a trick on him, as Richard gets him to back off by pretending to relinquish his family, included the bratty kids, to intrude on the eligible bachelor's ski lodge pad. Even then, Jeff still manages to find love himself by the final scene, hooking up with the Moore's bland babysitter (Laurie Holden). It's also disappointing that the characterizations are inconsistent, and too many events are based purely on script convenience--Richard is first portrayed as a confident ladies' man, but on his trip he's suddenly hopelessly inept in scoring, constantly embarrassing himself in front of women who want nothing to do with him.

Alternating between locations in blistery Toronto and sunkissed Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the film does maintain an international flavour, but not the slightest taste of its Canadian origin. A lack of exterior city shots and a conspicuously placed American flag in one scene carefully obscure the project's Canadian origins, but still, observant viewers will notice that the film could have only come out of the Great White North, hearkening back to Quebec's sexual repression-busting maple syrup porn comedies of the late 1960s. Separate Vacations features a very similar set up to Claude Fournier's classic Deux Femmes en Or, in which two bored housewives look for love elsewhere. It's also notable that only Sarah finds sex amongst the snow-covered ski hills to the north, while Richard's south-of-the-border jaunt is a total washout, a false paradise populated by gaudy American tourists and opportunistic natives.

If the film fails to impress with its story, acting, locations, and originality, then at least it finally lives up to the promise of the opening credit's Playboy Productions logo. Where Heavenly Bodies was a transparent Flashdance rip-off that spent most of its screentime lingering on the spandex-clad bodies of aerobicizing women, Separate Vacations isn't afraid to work in straight-forward sexual innuendo and nudity, including a somewhat-surprising topless scene for Dale in the final act. While never particularly erotic, these scenes do give at least something to recommend about the film, spicing up an otherwise unmemorable effort.

Unfortunately, this determined focus on provocative material also seems to have sapped the proceedings of anything else worthwhile. The film is just as clueless when it comes to generating laughs as Richard is in picking up women, and director Anderson, a one-time Oscar nominee, seems to be sleepwalking through the project, as he would with the later straight-to-video sci-fi co-production, Millennium. Separate Vacations may have been considered at one time to be the heir apparent to the raunchy humour of Quebec's early sex comedies, but it's ultimately too superficial to make much of mark on the landscape of Canadian B-cinema.

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