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Will Good Dick Play in the Bible Belt? A pair of very different films herald the return of carnal cinema

[silive.com] It’s been too long since a good movie about sex has passed this way. We have to go back to 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” to find — heck, we really have to go back to 1988’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” for the last great movie about nookie.

Maybe it was the success of “Virgin,” or perhaps it’s simply the pervasiveness of sex in our culture today, from Internet porn to those wonderful spam e-mails touting the benefits of “V–ia Gra!,” but movies about sex are making a comeback.

This week alone brings us two — one a broad teen comedy inspired by an early John Cusack film, the other a thoughtful indie that’s passing strange. And in a couple weeks we get “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” (the title says it all).

The sad news is that the search for the next great movie on matters coital must continue.

We all remember our first time, for the simple reason that it was precisely that. But often more memorable is the journey (or struggle) we took to get there, which likely did more to shape who we are, and certainly lasted longer.

So it is with “Sex Drive,” a teen road trip/sex comedy that’s all about the journey (the actual deed occurs during the closing credits).

We’ve all seen movies like this at some point in our lives. This one put us most in mind of 1985’s “The Sure Thing,” starring a very young John Cusack. Movies have certainly gotten a lot raunchier over these last 23 years; we’ll just leave it at that.

But if most of the comedy here isn’t smart (some of it is), neither is it merely dirty either. There’s a heart beating at the center of “Sex Drive,” and therein resides a message that all teenagers can benefit from.

The characters are all of a type, of course. Josh Zuckerman plays Ian, the shy, sweet guy determined to lose his virginity, Clark Duke his friend who scores with the ladies despite lacking in looks (because he exudes confidence, guys). Amanda Crew stars as their best friend, who’s both hot AND smart (and therefore “the right one”).But the three embark on a cross-country road trip (if Chicago to Knoxville, Tenn., counts as cross-country; we don’t think it does) so Ian can have sex with a hottie he met on the Internet.

It’s the adventures our trio have on the road — as they’re chased by Ian’s older brother, a hysterically jerky James Marsden — that make “Sex Drive” worthwhile, particularly a stopover with the Amish, led by the wonderfully sardonic Seth Green.

It’s the season of rumspringa among the Amish, when youths are encouraged to experiment with English ways, from riding in a car to taking hard drugs, to see if the modern world is for them.

Rumspringa is a real deal, although undoubtedly exaggerated here, and Duke’s character meets a young Amish woman who looks like she was picked out of Miami’s South Beach. But, whatever.

“Sex Drive” is by no definition great art, and it pushes that raunch envelope still further, but it’s consistently funny and was clearly made with care. In the long and spotty tradition of juvenile sex comedies, it’s a keeper.

GOOD DICK

The video store clerk played by Jason Ritter in this little, indie film breaks that cardinal rule, but how else to meet the strange, mysterious, exotically attractive woman who keeps coming in his store to rent titles of soft-core 1980s erotica?

The woman, played by Marianna Palka, who also wrote and directed the movie, has issues. Boy, does she ever. This close to being mentally unstable, she needs someone to bring her out of her alarmingly thick shell in the worst way.

Most men would be scared off pretty quickly, but the hero of our story is a former addict who lives in his car. He’s drawn to the stragglers in the herd because he’s one himself.

“Good Dick” (the title is the most risque element of the film, which otherwise addresses sexual matters with frankness, not raunch) is a highly intriguing idea that suffers from the unsure steps of a fledgling filmmaker. There are issues of tone and pacing. The actors, particularly Ritter, are occasionally guilty of trying too hard.

Palka’s character is openly hostile to Ritter’s, despite allowing him to live in her apartment and in fact share her bed.

“If I wanted to have sex I would go find someone sexy, not like you,” she tells him, but he just laughs it off, not the response she’s looking for.

“I don’t give a s*** about you. When are you going to figure that out?” she eventually tells him, glaring (and this actress really knows how to glare), as they watch a porno together.

Just as mixed signals can be frustrating in the beginning of a relationship, so too are they for a movie audience. “Good Dick” is challenging material, it’s a love story that’s far from conventional, and Palka is not a confident enough writer or director to pull it off.

But we admire anyone courageous enough to make a movie about sex that isn’t just about naughty giggles.

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