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As seen in Newsday's TV Plus, August 28, 1988:


by Mark Fleischmann

English movies take a lot of familiar forms: the clever thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, the effervescent Ealing comedies, the oh-so-delicate Victorian romance of Brief Encounter. Not so delicate or Victorian are a recent spate of comic dramas that lean on an unlikely but powerful combination of rabblerousing and rutting.

Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987, Lorimar/Warner) was provocative enough to get the last two words of its title erased from newspaper ads. Sammy (Ayub Khan Din) and Rosie (Frances Barger) are your basic happy bedhopping interracial couple until their placid radical lives are disturbed by the return of Rafi (Shashi Kapoor), Sammy's politician dad, to London.

Rafi becomes the hub of a network of characters. He revisits the jilted lover of his student days (Claire Bloom), strikes a friendship with a homeless black squatter (Roland Gift), and stirs up Rosie's political instincts when her lesbian friends give her the bad news about Rafi's past: he tortured people in his indeterminate Asian homeland.

Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi carefully mix scenes of urban violence and urbane sexual repartee -- both reactions to repressive Tory rule. The main sex scene is a golden-lit orgy of montage in which the characters pair off for a night of sexual Utopianism. Sexy and witty, the movie bubbles with humor and commitment -- if you can enjoy them under a heavy layer of radical smugness.

Frears and Kureishi also teamed up for My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, Lorimar/Warner), a story about two London men of English and Asian descent who team up to start a laundromat. They're lovers, but also childhood friends, and their relationship is more like an intense friendship than a romance as they strive to make their way in a politically hostile world.

Much randier is Joe Orton, the gay playwright whose licentious life and grisly death are the subject of Prick Up Your Ears (1987, Virgin Vision). Gary Oldman brings Orton back to life with a smirking vitality that offers relief from the screeching petulance of Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina), Orton's mate, mentor, and hammer-wielding murderer.

Our surrogates are Vanessa Redgrave, as Orton's agent, and Wallace Shawn, as his biographer John Lahr. Reassuringly calm and conventional, they gently draw viewers into Orton's up-and-coming career and his busy love life -- a series of murky midnight trysts in restrooms, Underground tunnels, and abandoned factories.

Frears' film, based on Lahr's book, presents Orton as an engaging antihero whose selfishness brings him success, both creative and sexual. But his appetites and casual cruelty to Halliwell also prove to be his undoing, making his life an unintentional cautionary tale on the value of moderation and commitment in the age of AIDS.

Rita, Sue & Bob Too (1987, Lorimar/Warner) is set in a dingy housing project in the north of England where two frumpy teenagers, Rita (Siohban Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes), take turns in the backseat with Bob (George Costigan), a philandering suburbanite. The camera stays outside the car where each girl patiently waits her turn, watching the stars and listening to a lot of indecorous grunting. Playwright/screenwriter Andrea Dunbar has plenty of empathy for the spirited girls, their struggles, and their pregnancies.

Rita and Sue suffer indignity with a casual resignation. Not so the lusty feminist heroine of Wish You Were Here (1987, Fries Entertainment), who responds to naysayers with an unambiguous "Up yer bum!" When Linda (Emily Lloyd) slides into the family way, courtesy of her father's friend, the men in her tatty postwar resort town treat her coldly. Already militant by nature, she takes charge of her life. The moral: Partners come and go, but there's no substitute for an indomitable spirit.

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