Monday, April 27, 2009

Obsessed (2009)

I started out to trash Obsessed mostly because it’s a terrible movie but, halfway through writing my review, I found myself thinking, of all things, about Roger Ebert’s review of Basic Instinct 2. He didn’t like it, but in the course of trashing that movie he had something very interesting to say. “It's a lot of things, but boring is not one of them. I cannot recommend the movie, but ... why the hell can't I? Just because it's godawful? What kind of reason is that for staying away from a movie? Godawful and boring, that would be a reason.” I feel the same way about Obsessed. It’s terrible but never boring. I can’t recommend it, but…why not?

The movie’s a mess with characters making large emotional and logical shifts in the blink of an eye in a muddled and unsurprising thriller plotline that finds a man trapped between a crazed stalker and a jealous wife. Idris Elba is that man and his wife is Beyoncé. It’s an odd relationship, though, and not an easy one with which to sympathize. She was his secretary and now she’s a stay-at-home mom and online-college student, but she’s so irrationally worried Elba will cheat on her she forbids him to have a female assistant. He hasn’t had a female assistant for years.

This is clearly a volatile situation in which to drop Ali Larter’s stalker. She starts as a temp, but even before going full-time Larter plays up the crazy early and often. When Beyoncé finds out about the new assistant she immediately gets suspicious and when the stalking hits the fan she doesn’t care about Elba’s side of the story and promptly kicks him out of the house in a dialogue exchange that should be instantly entered into the Bad Movie Lines Hall of Fame. Elba: “Where would you have me go?” Beyoncé: “To hell!”

Larter may as well be a cardboard cutout for all the respect she gets from the plot which just props her up whenever the plot needs to be nudged along. When the audience groans at her every sudden appearance, I sensed it was not because of her character’s nefarious actions, it was because she was merely tiresome. The movie skulks about in stereotypes instead of crafting characters.

But none of that tempers my oddly satisfied reaction to the film. I can’t say the movie’s good but I can’t bring myself to trash it completely. The movie doesn’t succeed in any of the ways it thinks it does but there are three main reasons to see it, preferably with a slightly exhausted and sold-out late-show crowd:

1. Idris Elba has great screen presence; he’s cool (and coming off a great run of episodes as a guest star on NBC's The Office).

2. Christine Lahti shows up late in the picture as a wise and dry detective who squints while sizing up the situation with the kind of clear thinking that could have ended this movie before it even began. Sure, she believes the stalker for a while, but Lahti gives the character unneeded heft. I wanted to follow her out of this movie and into another - better - one.

3. The final confrontation between Beyoncé and Larter is a knockdown roof-raising fight that just happens to be the longest sustained sequence of hilarious slapstick in any recent movie. This thing is a hoot. I wish the studio had kept the original title of the film: Oh No She Didn’t! It would give audiences (especially if this becomes one of those so-bad-its-good midnight-show staples) something to shout out during the catfight other than the general howling contented laughter with which my audience erupted.

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