How much more mileage can we actually get out of the ‘spurned-lover-cum-dangerous-stalker’ sub-genre? The most iconic (and arguably greatest) example would be Adrian Lyne’s 1987 phenomenon Fatal Attraction, a film that has permeated popular culture since its release and still serves as a lauded cautionary tale for arrogant and opportunistic blokes who can’t keep it in their pants.
16 years before that, the Clint Eastwood vehicle Play Misty For Me offered a bold and seminal progenitor with Jessica Walter’s scary and annoying Evelyn serving as a less nuanced forerunner of Alex Forrest, and Misty remains a film that is worth a watch despite being somewhat dated and suffering from pacing issues. Outside of that, it has been a slew of increasingly derivative and nonsensical drivel such as The Crush, Swimfan, Obsessed, Unforgettable, etc. The list is so long that it’s nauseating and there appears to be no substantive point other than a few cheap scares. Concerning equality, it must also be said that Unlawful Entry is pretty much the only decent example where the sexes are reversed.
Cue Deon Taylor’s Fatale, yet another addition to this knackered formula that essentially says nothing and says it very loudly. Questionably acted with idiotic narrative developments and painful cinematography, the film is a psychotically overambitious mess that counterintuitively served as some thorough evening entertainment, although once is most certainly enough.
Derrick Tyler (Michael Ealy) is in a rut. Co-owning a highly successful and lucrative talent agency for Black athletes with his best friend Rafe (Mike Colter), Derrick is having trouble enjoying his success lately, terrified that his wife Tracie (Damara Lewis) is having an affair. If the coldness at home didn’t constitute enough on the man’s plate, Derrick is also being pressured by Rafe to sell their company and is regularly hassled for cash by his troublesome cousin Tyrin (Tyrin Turner). A look of woe is etched on the poor guy’s face in almost every frame.
During a boy’s trip to Las Vegas, Rafe playfully coerces Derrick into letting his wild side loose and having a fling to take his mind off personal and professional conundrums. It’s at this point that Derrick meets Valerie (Hilary Swank), a woman who states that she regularly sojourns in Vegas to alleviate the pressures of her job in another city, flirting with Derrick and proposing some dancefloor petting followed by a roll in the hay for some mutual stress relief. After Valerie disconcertingly forces him into some more sex the next morning, Derrick (who introduced himself as ‘Darren from Seattle’) flies back home to L.A. and thinks nothing more of it.
During some reconciliatory sex with Tracie one night, Derrick is disturbed by loud noises upstairs and gets into a particularly violent altercation with a masked intruder. Barely managing to fend the attacker off, the couple call the police and meet the detective assigned to their case…yep, it’s Valerie. A pretty nonplussed and pissed off Valerie to boot. The narrative peppering Derrick’s now immeasurably compounded dilemmas with a sub-plot focusing on Valerie’s dark history, our hero finds himself caught up in the diabolical machinations of this psycho cop, completely unprepared for just how cunningly and brutally she is prepared to metaphorically shaft him in the arse.
The film is flat-out stupid. Even the most anodyne and flippant popcorn fun needs to retain some semblance of narrative coherence to remain stable as a work, but the writers of Fatale appear to be bereft of the ability to decide whether their film was even supposed to be a serious thriller or a tongue-in-cheek, Saturday night shit-fest. Its attempts to tackle weighty themes such as adultery, corruption and the plight of Black Americans in the justice system are horrendously undercut by a set-up hinged on mouth-frothingly deranged implausibility.
None of the characterisation induces any level of care, the acting and dialogue remaining at a significantly pedestrian level throughout. Even Hilary Swank, a talented performer with some deeply credible roles under her belt, is reduced to a lump of wood via the terrible direction and script. Her character’s backstory is clumsily shoehorned into proceedings to the point that it belongs in an entirely different film, completely skewing the viewer’s awareness as to whether she’s truly obsessed with Derrick or merely wants to use him as a tool for her own psychopathic endeavours.
And to find out that the cinematographer was Dante Spinotti, the man who directed the photography for The Last of the Mohicans and Heat? Get the fuck out of here. Despite some residual gloss, the film looks absolutely horrible due to the inclusion of very cheap-looking dissolves and no establishing shots. Christ knows what was going on with the cameras here, but the team appeared to be juggling passable vs. student film for the sheer hell of it. None of this is helped by the inclusion of tons of monotonous R&B, a facet that seems to be a criterion nowadays for predictable hokum focusing on yuppie types who get themselves embroiled in sleazy shenanigans.
I’ll never watch it again, but I must admit that I was genuinely laughing my arse off for the duration. Ludicrously written, visually stagnant and utterly hollow in its totality, Fatale has understandably been lambasted by other critics for being boring but I was tickled pink watching it try to do its thing with a straight face. Much like Netflix’s horrendous Fatal Affair from last year, it adds nothing new and isn’t particularly worthy of discussion, but if you and/or your significant other could go for 100 minutes of riotous inanity, it’ll do just that.