Scorpion Releasing bring a little heat to their line-up with NIGHT EYES director Jag Mundhra’s T&A-heavy take on sexual harassment.
Michael Miller (John Laughlin, CRIMES OF PASSION) is appointed the new head of marketing at the Los Angeles arm Frost Advertising, and immediately sets his sights on graphic artist Ashley (Tahnee Welch, COCOON). She resists his advances and suffers in silence until he tries to physically assault her. When her claim is met with skepticism by her boss Frost (Stuart Whitman) who is more concerned about the reputation of the company and his family – Miller is married to his pregnant daughter Emily (Playboy Playmate Kathy Shower) – Ashley quits and files a lawsuit against Miller with the help of her sister’s former school friend Sam (Steven Bauer, THIEF OF HEARTS). The case is an uphill battle due to a lack of witnesses – apart from mail clerk Kurtis (Everett Lamar, THE INVISIBLE KID) who meets with an accident before he can testify – and testimony about Ashley’s “friendliness” with the office’s male staff (including THE FINAL TERROR’s Adrian Zmed and PUNK VACATION’s Stephen Fiachi) from ambitious co-worker Jo Ann (Patsy Pease, SPACE RAIDERS). Ashley loses the case and then her life when she crashes her car into a stop sign after drowning her sorrows. While Sam’s private investigator Bernadette (Nia Peeples, TV’s THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS) continues to look into Miller’s past after hours for other victims, Ashley’s grieving sister Kay (Lee Anne Beaman, STARVED) goes undercover at Frost Advertising as “Kayla” and interviews for and lands the position as Miller’s executive assistant with no experience, angering Jo Ann who testified on his behalf for the position (who starts doing some snooping of her own). Kayla doesn’t resist Miller’s advances since she’s planning to use her body – and a two-way mirror set-up – to destroy Miller’s life; however, Kay’s very life might be on the line when she exposes Miller (whose ultimate turn-on isn’t sex but power).
The late Jag Mundhra’s brand of erotic thrillers distinguished themselves from the rest of the direct-to-video horde – despite sharing some on-screen and off-screen talent with even more prolific contemporary A. Gregory Hippolyte (aka porn director Gregory Dark) – with a bit more production value, technical polish (including a handful of crane and aerial shots), and a higher-tier of B-list acting talent (here, Bauer, Welch, and Whitman). They were also a bit more plot-heavy than say MIRROR IMAGES or ANIMAL INSTINCTS; however, IMPROPER CONDUCT is so much more so that it is more than an hour before we are shown more than a bit of topless groping (including some over-the-copier action straight out of the 1980s), and even then certain plot machinations still receive short shrift. Although most of the film’s sex scenes are suggestive of an R-rated edit, the central set-piece might stray into unrated territory (in the context of the nineties when a little thrusting and jiggling could warrant an NC-17) but this isn’t really the film to rent if you’re looking for a sex scene every ten minutes or so. The scenes of sexual harassment are not at all subtle, coming across like the sort of interactions seen in a sexual harassment training video or that memorable 1990s television PSA; fortunately, Laughlin dives headlong into the role (chomping on a cigar when he’s not chewing the scenery).
Top-billed Bauer – who had appeared in a handful of 1990s TV erotic thrillers in between more mainstream variations like RAISING CAIN and Donald Cammel’s WILD SIDE (after much studio tampering) – is more of a guest-star, showing up intermittently to express concern (and have a tame sex scene with Beaman) and save the day in the rote action finale. Welch and Beaman are given the fifty-fifty PSYCHO plotline split-up; as such, Welch elicits more audience sympathy as the victim while Beaman – great body notwithstanding – more or less goes through the motions of seductress and last-minute-terrorized-heroine. Shower, Beaman, and Wendy MacDonald (who plays Jo Ann’s catty cohort) were not really erotic thriller regulars, but that part of their resume consisted mainly of Mundhra outings (all three appeared in Scorpion’s companion Mundhra release IRRESISTIBLE IMPULSE along with Lydia Bushfield who plays Emily’s sister here). Lamar’s mail clerk manages to embody both sassy black and gay stereotypes early on, but is reasonably sympathetic in his later scenes. Whitman and Zmed unobtrusively collect their paychecks. The end result is a rather predictable but satisfying thriller that may nevertheless underwhelm those looking for a Shannon Tweed (or Shannon Whirry) vehicle.
Scorpion’s single-layer disc features a progressive, fullscreen (1.33:1) transfer from what is likely the original tape master. Detail is only fair, with white shirts sometimes clipping and chroma noise on the fine patterns of herringbone jackets and those unflattering shoulder-padded business blazers worn by the characters; but one could say the transfer gets the job done as well as it did on its intended analog medium. The film was a direct-to-video feature so zooming in 16:9 throws off the balance of shots and makes close-ups seem invasive. The clean Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio extends separation mainly to the synth-and-sax-heavy music score, but dialogue is always clear. The sole extra is the film’s video trailer (2:39) which is letterboxed for some reason, although it’s just a matte slapped over the image since the WILD CACTUS title card (one of many during the “from the director of” intro) is cropped off on the top and bottom. (Eric Cotenas)
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