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Terrible mess of a movie, some real talent involved in this misfire but catch them in their much better work.
Daring but abrasive, "Inserts" is notable for its casting of well-known faces in a surprisingly explicit film. Also unusual: Minus a prologue that uses unseen extras, this early-'30s period piece has just five credited actors. Most of the drama sits on the twitchy shoulders of Richard Dreyfuss (shortly before "Jaws" launched him to major stardom).
Dreyfuss is an unnamed "boy wonder" who directed some silent masterpieces and once clinked glases with the likes of D.W. Griffith, Lillian Gish and Erich Von Stroheim. But after a poorly explained fall from grace, he's now an impotent, ruddy drunk shooting stag reels in his living room. The first act shows him greeting favored actress Harlene (Veronica Cartwright, whose pert sexiness is a sharp contrast to her middle-aged character roles), then choreographing a brutal scene between her and dimwit Rex (Stephen Davies, definitely the weak link). Producer "Big Mac" (a young, trim Bob Hoskins) soon arrives with his fiancee Cathy (Jessica Harper) to watch the proceedings, but an unforeseen catastrophe threatens to sink the half-finished film. However, Cathy is not the naive starlet she appears to be and eventually forces Dreyfuss's character to re-examine his self-defeating cynicism.
"Inserts" is rated NC-17 nowadays, and it's easy to see why. Glimpses of Davies' scrotum go well beyond the typical sex scene's limits, and the graphically pounded Cartwright barely avoids what might be called "gatefold" shots. And who would expect to see Dreyfuss licking Harper's stiffened nipples in closeup? It's a legitimately erotic segment.
Sharing the screen with Dreyfuss for most of the film's second half, Harper (fresh from a knockout role in "Phantom of the Paradise") ends up stealing the picture from him. It's a brave, sometimes vulgar performance that requires her to be topless for an extended stretch (despite her lacking an ideal set of curves), and her expressive eyes and soulful intelligence make Dreyfuss's kvetchy tantrums and practiced bottle-swigging seem cartoonish in comparison. Unfortunately, "Inserts" fails to pay off and has the weak aftertaste of a one-set play staged as an experimental exercise. A few highly dramatic events pass without satisfying ramifications, and the film just fizzles out at the end.
"Inserts" is a curious little gem of 70s filmmaking that isn't likable or very good, but it is interesting enough to merit at least a single viewing. Richard Dreyfuss has a wacky, uneven performance as a director of pornographic films that spends his time half-drunk and in solitude. The rest of the cast (which includes Veronica Cartwright, Stephen Davies, Bob Hoskins and Jessica Harper) is pretty uneven as well and their performances consist of either grand moments or weak moments, excluding Harper, whose performance is actually quite excellent. As for the film itself, it doesn't quite (literally) go anywhere, but at the end, it doesn't feel like a total waste. It's a little eccentric, a little mediocre, a little stagy, but strangely interesting.
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