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.