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There should be a limit to the number of plot twists a film can spring on an audience. Sure, it’s okay for fiendishly clever puzzlers like Sleuth and Deathtrap to keep us guessing from one moment to the next. But run-of-the-mill suspensers such as Fatale — which wears its film noir and ’80s-era thriller influences so heavily on its sleeve that you can feel the seams fraying — really need to keep them to a minimum, otherwise they lose all credibility. Such is the case with this effort directed by Deon Taylor and starring Hilary Swank as the titular femme fatale.
Michael Ealy, an actor who seems to specialize in onscreen suffering (he was similarly tormented in last year’s The Intruder, also directed by Taylor), plays Derrick, a sports agent whose business success is instantly signaled by his sharply tailored suits, beautiful office and lavish Hollywood Hills home featuring the inevitable infinity pool. Indeed, the real estate porn is laid on so thickly that you instantly know something bad is going to happen, since in films of this type anyone who lives that well deserves trouble.
RELEASE DATE Dec 18, 2020
On a trip to Las Vegas to attend a bachelor party with his business partner Rafe (Mike Colter, whose formidable charisma goes sadly underutilized here), the married Derrick has a one-night stand with Val (Swank), whom he meets in a bar. She’s the sort of seductress who think it’s appropriate to lock his cell phone in her hotel room safe while he’s sleeping and refuse to return it the next morning unless he gets back into bed.
After returning home, Derrick is brutally attacked late one night by a masked home invader. When the police arrive to investigate, the detective in charge is none other than Val, who shows obvious displeasure at discovering that Derrick is not the unmarried man he pretended to be. As we soon learn, she has problems of her own, mainly being involved in a bitter custody fight over her daughter with her ex-husband (Danny Pino), an up-and-coming politician. It also becomes very apparent that Val is not willing to let what happened in Vegas stay in Vegas.
Screenwriter David Loughery, who lately has been specializing in these sorts of twisted thrillers with such films as Lakeview Terrace and Obsessed, keeps the melodramatic plot revelations coming fast and furious from there. By the time we get to Derrick enlisting his ex-con cousin (Tyrin Turner) to help him out and Val revealing her evil plot to get her daughter back, viewers’ heads will not be so much swimming as already drowned.
Fatale proves very watchable, in an incredulous B-movie kind of way, and Taylor is a slick enough filmmaker to keep things moving swiftly and entertainingly. The film certainly looks terrific, thanks to Dante Spinotti’s glossy cinematography and the high-end production design and costuming. And Swank leans into her villainous role with gusto, clearly relishing the opportunity to play the sort of scheming femme fatale who drove the likes of Bogart and Mitchum crazy. But her best efforts are undercut by the endlessly formulaic nature of the proceedings, which even shamelessly include a Fatal Attraction-style return from the seemingly dead. The only thing missing is a boiled bunny.
Available in theaters
Production company: Hidden Empire Film Group
Cast: Hilary Swank, Michael Ealy, Mike Colter, Danny Pino, Tyrin Turner, Sam Daly, David Hoflin, Damaris Lewis
Director: Deon Taylor
Screenwriter: David Loughery
Producers: Roxanne Avent Taylor, Deon Taylor, Hilary Swank
Executive producers: Robert F. Smith, Marc A. Hammer, David Loughery, Philip Schneider
Director of photography: Dante Spinotti
Production designer: Charlie Campbell
Editors: Eric L. Beason, Peck Prior
Composer: Geoff Zanelli
Costume designer: Solomon Fobb
Casting: Kim Taylor-Coleman
Rated R, 102 min.
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