Page to Screen: Virgin Territory (2007)

Virgin Territory
based on
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

A Knight’s Tale is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s so unique—cheerful teen medieval anachronism mashed up with a groovy seventies soundtrack with a fantastic cast—that I sometimes daydream about an alternate universe where it made so much money that studios were falling over themselves picking up movies like it, so I could have a whole library of this microgenre. And then I heard of Virgin Territory via author Genevieve Valentine, who is pretty groovy herself. It’s The Decameron as teen sex comedy—in some markets, it’s literally called Decameron Pie. It went straight-to-DVD. For heaven’s sake, Hayden Christensen and the kid from Eragon are in this movie. It’s like someone mixed up my daydream with my love for bad movies. …Let’s do this thing.

Virgin Territory, set in what it is trying and failing to pass as fourteenth century Italy, follows Lorenzo, a young womanizer whose heart nevertheless belongs to the beautiful Pampinea. While Pampinea is betrothed to the Russian Count Dzerzhinsky and lusted after by the man who put her father in debt, Gerbino Della Ratta. But there’s a bigger threat—the plague. Lorenzo, Pampinea, and their friends set out for Pampinea’s villa to wait for the count and avoid Gerbino, but along the way, the bawdy band fall into plenty of mischief.

For the first few minutes, I was actually with Virgin Territory; the Monty Python-esque opening, the surfer guitar over Lorenzo fleeing Gerbino’s mooks, the beautiful locations… it was scratching the same mental itch A Knight’s Tale did. And then Hayden Christensen opened his mouth. To be fair, it’s not him (well, mostly not him), but the script. I have nothing against bathroom humor or bawdy humor—in fact, as an asexual woman, I’m in a unique position to find the latter hilarious. But there’s a difference between infantile bawdy humor and more developed bawdy humor. Virgin Territory, perhaps not incorrectly, assumes its audience will find people in Renaissance garb cursing and having a lot of sex funny, and doesn’t go much further than that. There are glints of more organic humor—two nuns, taking their sweet time looking over Lorenzo’s supposedly unconscious body, screech when their Mother Superior discovers them, and Tindaro’s tired snark is a treat—but for the most part, the humor is so juvenile that I barely laughed. I’m tempted to say that perhaps I’m simply not the target audience, but, then again, A Knight’s Tale opens with three guys arguing over a smelly corpse. So, um, there, I guess.

The cast is, for the most part, a feedback loop of bland, which actually works for the main love story between Lorenzo and Pampinea, oddly enough. I was stunned, but not surprised, to discover Christopher Egan was in this. Even Tim Roth can’t seem to escape it; he seems just tired through the movie, clearly only doing this for rent money. And the film doesn’t particularly use him well; he’s the butt of a lot of jokes about his height. I just spent the movie feeling sorry for him, honestly. David Walliams, of Little Britain fame, shows up in a very brief cameo to let Lorenzo know just how to sneak into a convent, which is at least a little funny. But the film does have two bright spots—Matthew Rhys as Count Dzerzhinsky and Craig Parkinson as Tindaro. Matthew Rhys makes the Count endearing, charming, and a bit of a dork—he always has to introduce himself with his full title, which leads to one of the good jokes in the movie. I kind of wish he had been the lead. In a different movie. And Craig Parkinson is fantastic. I only know him because he’s been making me nervous to watch the third season of Misfits, as he replaced Robert Sheenan, but I’m now looking forward to it. Tindaro, an artist who impersonates a priest, snarks his way through the entire film casually, sassing everyone he comes across, including Gerbino. He makes the dialogue actually sound funny. It’s a shame to see him do this in this film, but at least he improves the entire thing.

The costumes and locations are nice, especially the villa and the cathedral the film starts in, and I do kind of like the surfer guitar score, even if it isn’t as full-fledged as I would want it to be. But I’m still held back by how women are portrayed in this movie. Oddly enough, I’m more fine with a convent full of randy nuns than the scene where Elissa and Filomena, Pompinea’s two friends, are kidnapped by a group of bandits and must use their sexuality to escape. The thing is, there are shades of a smarter, female-friendly bawdy comedy—how Elissa and Filomena actually escape is pretty funny—but I can’t help feeling that the movie is inviting me to drool over women being objectified and commodified, rather than being capable. It’s a shade beyond simply not being my cuppa, you know? Yurgh.

Bottom line: Virgin Territory is pretty boring, bland, and juvenile; there’s a way to make raunchy comedies hysterical, and this isn’t it. At least Craig Parkinson is good in it.

I watched this movie on Netflix Instant.

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