The ratings board must have had a field day with this one. Liam Neeson stars as Alfred Kinsey, the notorious academic who shocked an entire nation with his 1948 study ''Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.'' ''He was half scientist, half preacher,'' says writer-director Bill Condon, the screenwriter of ''Chicago'' and writer-director of ''Gods and Monsters.'' ''It was just fascinating trying to figure out what kind of guy could pull this off. What kind of guy in the 1940s could travel around the country and get people to talk so honestly about this incredibly intimate part of their lives?''
In today's post-Janet Jackson climate, Kinsey's story suddenly doesn't seem so dated. Says Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Kinsey's bisexual assistant Clyde Martin: ''Think about the biggest scandal in American politics in the last 20 years. Was it Iran-contra? No. Was it weapons of mass destruction? No. It's a bl-- job in the 'Oral Office.''' Given its subject matter, ''Kinsey'' includes graphic images of genitalia, both in the flesh (Sarsgaard's, to be exact) and in scientific photos. Still, says Sarsgaard, ''this is the least sexual movie about sex ever. The way it's talked about is entirely clinical the whole time.''
For Laura Linney, who appears as Kinsey's wife, Clara, it offered a chance to reunite with Neeson, who also played her spouse on Broadway in ''The Crucible.'' ''I've never done a play with someone and then done a movie,'' she says. ''The difference that gives you is tremendous. Most people would have to make this movie twice to get to the point where we were at the very beginning.''
Despite the placid set, the crew is bracing for conservative reaction to the touchy content. ''People just flip out. They feel like the fabric of American society is coming undone,'' marvels Linney. ''People have been having sex since the beginning of time, and hopefully they'll keep doing it.''
WHAT'S AT STAKE It's ''A Beautiful Mind'' for the kinky set! But strong reviews will be imperative to bring in crowds beyond the curiosity seekers.