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Breaking the Girls: Film Review

Breaking the Girls Madeline Zima - P 2013
Myriad Pictures

The Bottom Line

Sex, murder and riches don't add up to much in flavorless retread.

Opens

Friday, July 26 (IFC)

Cast

Agnes Bruckner, Madeline Zima, Shawn Ashmore, Kate Levering, Shanna Colins, Sam Anderson

Director

Jamie Babbit

Jamie Babbit offers a soaped-up, lesbian take on "Strangers on a Train."

An unhinged would-be heiress proposes the old "criss-cross" scheme to a struggling law student in Jamie Babbit's Breaking the Girls, a Strangers on a Train knockoff that reimagines Bruno as a lesbian who hopes murder will win the loyalty of the straight(ish) girl she longs for. Designed to titillate but disappointing for both pervs (its young protagonists stay remarkably clothed in all those languorous bedroom scenes) and viewers who've seen its far sexier read-between-the-lines antecedents, Babbit's film has little box office potential and will disappoint late-night VOD buyers.

Agnes Bruckner plays Sara, a law student who loses her scholarship after prissy nemesis Brooke (Shanna Collins) catches her skimming at her bartending job. Before she's fired from that gig, Sara is befriended by wealthy Alex (Madeline Zima), who turns up later to drunkenly maneuver Sara into a midnight pool party, where the two women get not-quite-naked with Brooke's boyfriend Eric (Shawn Ashmore).

Waking poolside the next morning with Eric long gone, Alex is clearly infatuated with Sara but plays it cool. "I've been hooking up with a lot of straight girls lately," she says. Still, she manages to move the newly homeless bartender into her ritzy pad and is soon comparing their friendship to that of two famous "lady pirates" who roamed the seas centuries ago. Wouldn't things be perfect, Alex asks, if I killed Brooke for you, and you killed my multimillionaire stepdad for me? Sara knows the idea is ridiculous, but that doesn't stop Alex from getting the ball rolling, moving the film into familiar psycho-stalker territory.

As every bit of sexual and felonious intrigue in the story derives from Alex's thwarted desires, the picture requires an especially juicy performance from Zima. Under the direction of TV vet Babbit, the actress isn't nearly up to the job: Alex doesn't have enough femme fatale wattage to be a guest villain on 90210.

Babbit's flat direction has none of the lurid appeal or humor that (along with a much more appealing cast) sustained John McNaughton's notionally similar Wild Things through crazy plot contrivances. When Mark Distefano and Guinevere Turner's script tries to distinguish itself with surprise motivations and impossible-to-believe conspiracies in the third act, viewers have little reason to go along for the ride.

Production Companies: Myriad Pictures, Tapestry Films

Cast: Agnes Bruckner, Madeline Zima, Shawn Ashmore, Kate Levering, Shanna Colins, Sam Anderson

Director: Jamie Babbit

Screenwriters: Mark Distefano, Guinevere Turner

Producers: Kirk D'Amico, Andrea Sperling 

Executive producers: Peter Abrams, Robert Levy

Director of photography: Jeffrey Waldron

Production designer: Theresa Guleserian

Music: Mateo Messina

Costume designer: Chase Jezowski

Editor: Mike Darrow

No rating, 86 minutes