Rented Lips (1988) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A documentary filmmaker, who has spent the last 15 years making films like "Aluminum: Our Shiny Friend," is finally given the chance to make the documentary on Indian farming he has always wanted to. The catch? He must simultaneously direct a porn film. But as he tries to make the porn film, which he turns into a musical called "Halloween in the Barracks," he must deal with a temperamental actor, a fundamentalist preacher, and other obstacles.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In Los Angeles, California, middle-aged documentary filmmaker Archie Powell (Martin Mull) struggles to make it big in Hollywood, much to the frustration of his mother (June Lockhart), who wants him to get married and start a family. Archie's editor and cameraman, Charlie Slater (Dick Shawn), is fed up with their lack of success and dreams of someday striking a lucrative studio deal to make "real" movies.

    After a screening of Archie and Charlie's latest film, public television producer Bill Slotnik (Shelley Berman) pressures them to take over the production of Rented Lips, a supposed "art-house" film, after the original director committed suicide. They agree on condition that they also be allowed to use the cast and crew to make Archie's passion project about Native-American farming techniques in Orange County. When Archie and Charlie arrive on location at a grungy Hollywood hotel, they learn that the production is actually a pornographic film about sex practices in Nazi Germany. As they review the disastrous completed footage featuring temperamental star Wolf Dangler (Robert Downey Jr.), Archie wants to quit, but Charlie urges him to consider rewriting the script.

    While he works on revisions, Archie's mother sets him up on a date with an aspiring singer-actress named Mona Lisa (Jennifer Tilly). Inspired by their meeting, Archie decides to turn both Rented Lips, now titled Halloween at the Bunker, and his Indian Farming Techniques into musicals with Mona Lisa in the leading roles. After a rough rehearsal, the cast and crew board a bus to a remote ranch owned by Charlie's uncle, and begin shooting the two films. Despite some difficulties directing Wolf Dangler, Archie is ultimately satisfied with their progress, and develops a romantic relationship with Mona Lisa.

    Meanwhile, Evangelist Reverend Farrell (Kenneth Mars) threatens Bill Slotnik unless he shuts down production of Rented Lips and gives him his own public television show. When Rev. Farrell discovers Slotnik lied to him, he drives to the ranch to interrupt filming. As he orders his goons to douse the barn in gasoline, he recognizes his daughter, Mona Lisa, among the cast. Mona Lisa explains that she cut off all contact with her father after discovering his secret career as a successful underground pornographer. Hoping to squash the competition, Rev. Farrell sets the barn on fire and drives away. Discouraged, Archie gives up on the project, losing the respect of Charlie, Mona Lisa, and his mother.

    Later that night, Mona Lisa returns and encourages Archie to fight for his friends and career. He reconciles with Charlie, who reveals that the barn burning was caught on camera. Using the footage as blackmail, they convince Rev. Farrell to rebuild the barn and quit his charade as an Evangelist. The reverend donates his porn profits to fund an elaborate dance sequence for the grand finale of Indian Farming Techniques, and the picture debuts to rave reviews. As the audience applauds, Archie stirs from his dream and resumes work at his typewriter.

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