by Ed Moore
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In recent years, the term “torture porn” has been used to describe horror films that linger lovingly over the brutality inflicted on their characters (think Saw, Hostel, the remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes and their many, many sequels). I guess it was just a matter of time until somebody made a movie that emphasized the “porn” as much as the “torture,” substituting sexual kink for the splatter—well, some of the splatter, anyway.
Playroom, which follows a group of five childhood friends from a college party through a trip to Philadelphia that goes horribly wrong, wants very much to be that movie, but doesn’t have enough sex or scares to keep the viewer awake, much less interested.
The five friends—responsible family man Max (Nicholas Kattar), lonely Jimmy (Michael Tranzilli), cowardly mooch Norm (Chris Cannon) and horndogs Jason (Paul Marron) and Nick (Adam Ratcliffe) all head to Philly to catch an Eagles game, but go out the night before to hang out, snort coke and get some action. Jason and Nick go with a couple of wild girls to an underground club, where lots of leather and chains are on display. They wind up in a bondage den and have sex with the girls, only to find themselves chained to their beds. Not good.
It gets worse, though: A man known only as “The Director” (Stephen Lee, who looks like a severely debauched Ben Gazzara) informs them that their sexual exploits have been filmed and they are now the new stars of his latest porn flick; if they don’t cooperate, he’ll tell their wives. When one of the chained-up dudes unwisely puts a cigarette out on The Director’s face, though, he vows to use the two prisoners in one of his “shock” videos. The boys are then subjected to sexual torture and humiliation, including rape with strap-ons and electrified dildos.
In the meantime, Max and Jimmy grow concerned about their missing friends and start to search for them while Norm heads back for home. They find Jason and Nick in a conclusion packed with monumental coincidences, unlikely revelations and unconvincing gore.
Director Stephen Stahl can’t do much with Anthony Hipple’s flat screenplay, which is filled with scenes that somebody obviously thought were shocking or provocative, but come off instead as flat and strangely lacking in any tension. He also can’t do much with his actors, who give uniformly bland performances. It is somewhat refreshing that Max, the hero of the piece, isn’t squeaky clean—even though he’s faithful to his wife (unlike the rest of the guys), he still has a taste for coke and lapdances—but that doesn’t make him, or anyone else in this movie, interesting or entertaining.
Playroom isn’t scary, sexy, or even gross or unintentionally funny. It’s tedious. Say whatever bad things you will about the other recent entries in the “torture porn” subgenre, but at least they’re not this dull.
Ed Moore is a film reviewer living in Chicago.
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