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Lots of Sex-Talk

Bill Condon's Kinsey is three stories in one. It's about the life of Alfred Kinsey, the world-famous sex researcher; it's about his work that stirred a nation sixty years ago; and it's about America's fitful sexual awakening two decades before the official onset of the sexual revolution. It's a lot to pack into two hours but Kinsey covers all the bases with only a little sentimentality.

Liam Neeson tackles the role of Kinsey with his usual fervor, and Laura Linney admirably portrays his conflicted but supporting wife. They make a great couple, although their real-life age difference is hard to transcend on the screen -- and Neeson looks ridiculous as the young professor (Ralph Fiennes would have been more convincing).

Along with a small band of loyal researchers (played with good humor by Chris O'Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, and Timothy Hutton), Kinsey interviewed thousands of ordinary Americans across the country in the early 1940s to search for the truth about how people viewed themselves as sexual beings -- until then a completely ignored, unknown subject. His results stunned the country at the time, especially the arbiters of morality.

Kinsey turns the table on the man by questioning him about his own sexuality, revealing the inner turmoil that affected his life. He comes across as a difficult man yet committed to his work and the promise of science. He rails at "morality masquerading as facts" and tests the limits of his colleagues' relationships by encouraging sexual dalliances among them.

With an unabashed sexual frankness guaranteed to tickle and surprise audiences, Kinsey is at its best, and most poignant, when it focuses on such topics as the miserable fate of homosexuals or the downplayed sexual desires of women. Lynn Redgrave's parting shot is particularly terrific in this regard. The film is less wonderful when it wanders into standard biopic territory, such as Kinsey's strained relationship with his conservative father.

Kinsey is a fascinating portrait of a time that seems laughably repressed by contemporary standards yet bears chilling resemblance to America today. Even though it's hard to believe how ignorant many college students of the 1930s were about their sexual bodies, consider the fact that the Texas Board of Education is currently pushing abstinence-only textbooks in its sex-ed classrooms.

Stars: 3 out of 5