Déjà Vu All Over Again
Let me give you the short review first: you’ve seen this movie before. They’ve made this film at least once per year, for as long as I can remember, at least since Fatal Attraction back in 1987. Fatal Attraction is like the Die Hard of bad suspense movies. At least a third of action movies can be dismissed as: it’s just Die Hard on a boat, it’s just Die Hard at a hockey game, it’s just Die Hard at the junior Special Olympics. Well, Obsessed is just Fatal Attraction with a black rich guy instead of a white rich guy. At least Die Hard On A [something] films have explosions to keep them interesting. The Fatal Attraction clones depend on suspense, which just does not exist in the thirtieth version of the exact same film. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know everything that happens in the film.
The actors do a fine job with what they’re given: Idris Elba (playing Dereck) manages a good gamut of emotions, from sweet to sad to furious, Ali Larter (playing Lisa) does a good brand of crazy and seductive, and Beyoncé Knowles is appropriately fierce (although her character’s name is unfortunately Sharon instead of Sasha). Beyoncé’s acting was a pleasant surprise, so at least she’s got a fallback now that the singing thing is running its course. Jerry O’Connell plays the sleazy co-worker of Dereck, which is really only noteworthy because he sports the worst hair this side of the eighties. I don’t know what the hair dressers were going for, but his strange greasy hair stole every scene it was in.
The film’s plot hinges on Dereck being a moron. All he has to do is tell his wife that this nutty temp keeps trying to touch him inappropriately, or call the temp agency and tell them to send someone else at the start when the temp starts going weird. Or file a report with HR, since it is logical to suppose that a multi-million dollar investment executive would have heard at some point of the CYA hedge fund. Or maybe the fact that he hadn’t explains a lot about the economy of the last six months.
The film doesn’t quite have the balls to go anywhere interesting with the premise. Fatal Attraction worked in large part because Michael Douglas did sleep with Glenn Close, which lent an almost Catholic guilt to the entire film. He uses and discards her, she seeks revenge. It’s not fair, it’s not rational, but it has a delicious feeling of reaping what you sow. And she goes quality nuts: the boiled bunny is one of the most disturbing scenes in cinema. There are moments when Obsessed almost looks like it’s going someplace really dark, but veers away back to Lifetime channel faux drama. Lisa slips Dereck a roofie of some sort and it is strongly implied that she rapes him while he is unconscious, but there is no consequence to the plot. Lisa tricks the teenage babysitter, kidnaps their baby, but then just gives him back. These scenes teeter on the edge of going somewhere very dark and disturbing but the film darts back over the line as quickly as the studio can yell “PG-13, PG-13!” If you aren’t willing to get truly disturbing, don’t make a suspense thriller, just go make after school movies instead.
If they were dead set against going the disturbing route, they should have at least gone all out on the camp angle. The film’s working title was Oh No She Didn’t, according to IMDB. If they’d kept that title, really let Beyoncé ham up the ferocity, and convinced Ali Larter to bring back the whip cream bikini, the result could have been legendary.
On a meta level, it is vaguely interesting to note the racial inversion of the film. One of the oldest and most vicious racist tropes is the myth of the black rapist stalking helpless white women, something implied all the way back in Birth of Nation and of course mocked decades later in Blazing Saddles. That myth was used as a weapon by the KKK and other white supremacist groups for decades, but to invert that myth entirely in a film today doesn’t seem even to raise a comment. Race is a non-issue in the film, simply invisible, and it is encouraging. To paraphrase Chris Rock, the best golfer is black, the best rapper is white, the president is black, and films now have poor white women sexually preying on rich black men. It doesn’t make the film any more entertaining, but it’s at least something for the historically minded to think about.
The film does manage some unintentional hilarity by clearly dating itself as having been written and filmed before last fall. It features as a protagonist a rich investment executive and his merry rich co-workers, living in their palatial homes, landing their hundred million dollar investment deals, scoffing about a client for not understanding that the market always goes up, cruising to a business retreat on the company dime. All without the slightest hint of irony. It would be one thing if the movie was a few years old, but at this moment it comes across as hilariously clueless, like going back and re-reading about how Hillary was totally going to win the nomination before Super Tuesday even came around.
So in summary, Obsessed is mildly interesting on a meta level, but really doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself from the dozen other films with the exact same plot line.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. He is a hopeless romantic who can be found wandering San Diego’s strip malls and suburbs looking for his mislaid soul and waiting for the revolution to come. Burning Violin is still published weekly on Wednesdays at www.burningviolin.com, along with assorted fiction and other ramblings.