Combining sex and soap opera mate­ri­al served New World Pictures well dur­ing their ear­ly years.  Starting with The Student Nurses, they stum­bled onto a for­mu­la — build an ensem­ble around three young wom­en will­ing to shed their clothes, give each a soap opera style plot thread of their own and spice it up every reel or so with a bit of bare skin or a roll in the hay.  It worked well and con­tin­ued to do so as nurs­es were replaced with teach­ers or stew­ardess­es.

The for­mu­la was revised to incor­po­rate mod­els with the release of Cover Girl Models.  It would be the last of the three-girl sex soaps and this turned out to be a wise move because this film reveals the for­mu­la was on its last legs.  Howard Cohen’s script fol­lows the estab­lished tem­plate to the let­ter:  swing­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Mark (John Kramer) flies abroad with a trio of love­ly mod­els — Barbara (Pat Anderson), Claire (Lindsay Bloom) and new­bie Mandy (Tara Strohmeier) — to do a fash­ion shoot for a hip, Cosmopolitan-style ladies’ mag.

Each lady has her own sub­plot: Mandy has to learn the ropes of mod­el­ing while also deal­ing with Mark’s sleazy busi­ness prac­tices and seduc­tion tac­tics, Claire occu­pies her­self with try­ing to land a role in the new film of a pro­duc­er who hap­pens to be in town and Barbara is chased by kung-fu thugs because she unknow­ing­ly has a dress with micro­film sewn into it.  She also finds her­self attract­ing the atten­tion of a lover who is mys­te­ri­ous about his day job, a plot thread that is lift­ed ver­ba­tim from past New World sex-soaper Fly Me (anoth­er movie by this film’s direc­tor, Cirio Santiago).

That’s plen­ty of plot for Cover Girl Models’ slen­der run­ning time and yet Cohen’s script feels both under­cooked and padded out.  There’s a lot of sub-sit­com comic schtick, like Claire get­ting mis­tak­en for a hook­er in a dive bar or Mandy going on an ill-advised shop­ping spree to get “mod­el clothes.”  More impor­tant­ly, Mark and Claire are pret­ty unsym­pa­thet­ic, self-cen­tered lead char­ac­ters whose mine-for-me atti­tudes are grat­ing when placed in a film that’s sup­posed to be light­heart­ed.  It doesn’t help that the film’s plot threads don’t tie togeth­er until a very hasty, patched-togeth­er final reel.

Another prob­lem is that Santiago is the wrong kind of direc­tor for this.  His quick, rough-and-tum­ble style is best suit­ed to high-octane action fare and he lacks the light touch to make a light­heart­ed sto­ry about three wom­en into the con­fec­tion it needs to be.  He just steam­rolls through every­thing in his path, includ­ing the com­e­dy.  He’s also typ­i­cal­ly slap­dash in his exe­cu­tion, includ­ing some laugh­able kung-fu sequences.

Thankfully, there are a few bits in Cover Girl Models that just man­age to keep it out of junk-pile sta­tus.  For starters, there are two star­lets that b-movie fans will enjoy watch­ing.  The first is Anderson: she was a vet of Santiago pro­duc­tions by this time and goes about her busi­ness with a beau­ty and grace that gives the pro­ceed­ings a lift.  The oth­er is Strohmeier, an under­rat­ed star­let who gives her all here. Though the char­ac­ter of Mandy is writ­ten as a bit of a simp, Strohmeier brings a game, cheer­ful atti­tude to her work here.  Whether she’s doing prat­falls or ful­fill­ing the oblig­a­tory nudi­ty require­ments, she remains a like­able and watch­able pres­ence.

The final reel is also quite fun.  Scripter Cohen piles on the corn­ball con­trivances with glee as he hus­tles to tie up the film’s loose ends, lead­ing to a big “shootouts & bad kung fu” finale.  Santiago is no Jack Hill but he dives into this sequence with con­ta­gious glee and gives it a mad­cap ener­gy that caps the film on a high note.

In short, Cover Girl Models is one of the lesser New World sex-soap pro­gram­mers but it still has its moments.  If you need a slot-filler for a dou­ble bill, you could do much worse.  At the very least, the afore­men­tioned charm­ing star­lets and goof­ball final reel will pull you through.