This review has been posted in conjunction with the Daily Grindhouse's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.
According to Entertainment Weekly’s archives, Rubdown, which originally aired on September 15th, 1993, was “surprisingly absorbing, mostly due to its sassy dialogue.” However, I think EW might have been the lone supporter of this USA Original, which Variety called “superficially steamy,” featuring “somnambulistic performances [that] lack any relevance” (and that’s just one of the negative reviews I read). But just you hush, Variety and your lackeys, because EW was so ahead of your game. Rubdown is indeed an unexpected treat, with lots of fun, if predictable, twists and turns.
The gorgeous Jack Coleman is Marion Pooley (!), an ex-pro baseball player who has fallen on hard times. After a horrible accident that caused him to step down from his game, he makes ends meet as a masseur at a high fashion gym. But it doesn’t really help him with his gambling debts, which are getting worse and worse. One of his clients, Harry Orwitz (William Devane) confesses to Marion that he’s looking to get out of his marriage to a gold-digging wife, but their pre-nup only allows him a financially beneficial divorce if she files first or is caught in an affair. Harry knows Marion needs the dough, and hey, he’s easy on the eyes too, so he offers the ex-ball player $30,000 to sleep with his gorgeous blonde wife. But wait, Marion is already sleeping with Mrs. Orwitz! Whoops! Marion and Jordy Orwitz (Catherine Oxenberg) devise a plot to foil’s Harry original plot, but it gets all re-foiled when Harry ends up dead, Jordy goes missing and all suspicion falls on Marion! But wait, there’s more! Marion runs across the real Jordana Orwitz (Michelle Phillips), and of course, more foiling (and some steaminess) ensue!
That’s an ambitious scenario, even by early 90s erotic thriller standards. Rubdown does have a few plot pitfalls, and although I could see the ending coming from across the room, I found the film to be a charming entry into the sexy genre, which all too often lacked in the charm department. It’s aided by a slick production, with gorgeous shots of the San Diego beach and other glamorous locals. But most importantly (and perhaps most unexpectedly), it is indeed the crisp noir-ish dialogue and Pooley’s strangely moving backstory that made Rubdown a film I couldn’t stop watching.
Of course, this movie is about almost-titilation simply due the more restrained nature of basic cable, and I’m sure that disappointed some viewers (aka Variety… just admit it guys). But both Oxenberg and Phillips are appropriately voluptuous and mysterious, with Oxenberg suiting the femme fatale role rather nicely in her first scenes, and Michelle picking up her cue for the second half of the film.
Here is an example of how to be a femme fatale, and how not to do it, Rubdown-style:
But wait, there’s even more! Alan Thicke plays a maybe-bad guy attorney and his henchman is Kane Hodder, who was already famous in horror circles for playing Jason Vorhees in three Friday the 13th movies (Jason Goes to Hell was released just one month prior to Rubdown’s airing). Random trivia: Screenwriter Clyde Hays played Paul in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter! This was Hayes first produced script, and it shows a lot of promise. Director Stuart Cooper got his start in the 1970s, but really hit his stride in the early 90s, making several films for the USA Network. Thank you Stuart!
Rubdown is on VHS! Yay!