When the French comedians and prank-enthusiasts Nicolas & Bruno were putting together In Search of the Ultra Sex, did they anticipate its rave reviews, midnight screening success, and repeated, somewhat bewildering comparisons to Michael Hazanavicius?
This is, after all, a film with no new visual content, constructed entirely out of vintage Canal+ porno excerpts and overlaid idiot dialog in the spirit of What’s Up, Tiger Lily?. Not only does it have considerably more sex on roller skates than Hazanavicius’ The Artist, but Ultra Sex also largely takes place in a region of space known as the “Butthole Galaxy” and includes lines like, “Roger that, Captain Cock. Read you loud and clear, 4skin5.”
The plot, such as it is. Earth is in the grips of a global “sexual event”, a pandemic that has led seemingly ordinary people — your mechanics, your pizza delivery boys, your TV newscasters and professional roller skaters — to start copulating furiously. (Up to 30 times a day, we are solemnly told, by a man receiving a blow job in a park.) This is all related to the theft of an elusive McGuffin known as The Ultra Sex, which may or may not be in the possession of Nazi Ninja, a nefarious racketeer with designs for worldwide domination. Other culprits loom large, however, including the enemies of a curiously erotic version of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, as well as Daft-Peonk Robot, a robot who somewhat resembles one member of Daft Punk but not quite.
The fate of the world lies in the hands of Captain Cock and the literally dick-headed crew of the 4Skin5, as well as intrepid, earth-bound detectives Stormy Brushings and Bambi Darling, who communicate with suspects largely through spelling out individual letters on their underwear.
Nicolas & Bruno have a tremendous amount of fun reconstructing a narrative out of found parts, inserting jokes and juvenalia with abandon. If one doesn’t land, never fear: another will arrive in the next 5 seconds. In Search of the Ultra Sex is that sort of affair.
The Tiger Lily comparison is unavoidable, but unlike Woody Allen’s rather academic silliness, Ultra Sex plays for the back row. It’s gloriously trashy, enamored of puns and wordplay while still relishing the basic idiocy of hijacking existing film for absurdist purposes. Another distinction: where Allen is fixated on faithfully reproducing an individual film (albeit with lunatic interruptions) and then forcing it to devour itself, his French admirers assemble a pastiche instead. Hundreds of Canal+ films make their way into this fever dream of anti-erotic sci-fi, and the effect is a kind of delirious joy at the spectacle of it all.
Also, the root of Tiger Lily‘s joke is that overdubbed films are inherently funny — particularly Asian ones featuring young vixen temptresses, which is not in any way creepy for Allen to joke about. That film only works to the degree that you shrug it off and enjoy the contrast of Japanese image with the narrative’s resolutely New York Jewish infatuations. (“An egg salad so good you could plotz!”)
Ultra Sex, on the other hand, starts from the very defendable notion that pornography is ridiculous. The idea that the porn we create is all related, part of a huge tapestry of story, and can be structured to reflect a narrative is inherently amusing. There are also kernels of a larger idea buried in here, about the viewership and pastiche, sensory overload and the absurd structures of our engagement with cultural production.
Those ideas are, admittedly, a bit hard to focus on, what with all the fucking robots and toys that sprout genitalia and mundane discussions between feverishly intertwined couples at the gym.
In Search of the Ultra Sex finds itself, almost unwittingly, in a longer tradition of artistic terrorism that includes everything from Dada to Mystery Science Theater 3000. Its 59 minutes are a mad rush of goofball exposition and self-referential humor, staring clear-eyed and affectionately at some of our most laughable creations. It’s impossible not to laugh along.