2020, R, 102 min. Directed by Deon Taylor. Starring Hilary Swank, Michael Ealy, Mike Colter, Danny Pino, Tyrin Turner.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 25, 2020
Starting with its Frenchified title, this modern-day film gris of infidelity, blackmail and murder has the potboiler smudgeprints of Fatal Attraction all over it. Successful Los Angeles sports agency executive Derrick Tyler (Ealy) slips off his wedding ring during a bachelor party weekend in Las Vegas, temporarily rechristens himself “Darrin”, and hooks up with a sexually-forward Valerie (Swank) after she insists he mop up the cocktail he accidentally spills down her cleavage. Once back at his Hollywood Hills home and in the arms of his wife Tracie (Lewis), their shaky marriage momentarily rekindled, Derrick is viciously attacked downstairs one night by a masked gunman. When the LAPD police officer assigned to the case arrives to investigate, it turns out what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there. As a slightly tense Detective Quinlan (yes, Swank) surveys the couple’s upstairs bedroom for an altogether different set of clues, her eyes lock on Tracie’s lacy underwear casually strewn on the marital bed and instantly you can imagine her boiling a bunny.
If only Fatale were so blithely straightforward. In addition to the aforementioned one-night stand, there’s a lot going on in David Loughery’s overworked screenplay: A bitter child custody fight, a beach house love nest, a philandering spouse (another one!), a business partner anxious to sell, a cousin just out of prison, a succession of homicides. These plot elements stack one on top of the other, like so many wooden blocks. (The foghorn soundtrack by Geoff Zanelli threatens to topple them at any minute.) While Fatale shamelessly cribs from Adrian Lyne’s 1987 film about an extra-marital fling gone wrong, Valerie is nothing like the emotionally unhinged Alex Forrest played by Glenn Close. Although she initially calls Derrick out for his dishonesty and seethes a little about it, Valerie has no illusions about continuing any kind of relationship with him. Even so, she’s still up for a spontaneous fuck on the kitchen countertop in her warehouse loft, not unlike Alex’s erotic dip in her loft’s kitchen sink with Michael Douglas’s Dan. More pointedly, as improbable as Valerie’s endgame seems once revealed, it plainly demonstrates she’s nobody's chump. It’s not exactly a feminist reading, but one that gives Fatale a little backbone.
You’re never really sure how crazy Valerie is supposed to be, if at all. Is she a functioning psychotic? Or just a strong-minded personality willing to kill for good reason? As played by Swank, it’s hard to tell. Her idea of Valerie’s internalized rage is subtle, and you can read almost anything into those hard stares. Swank’s strength as an actor is her hard-scrabble pragmatism, which doesn’t come much into play here. At the end (spoiler alert!), the movie requires her to go full on crazy-ass slasher-bitch, much like the character at the end of another movie previously mentioned here. What else would you expect from something like this? After all that glowering, at least it must have felt cathartic.