Ahhh, the erotic thriller. Why does it exert such a trashy pull? This movie was pretty much a complete mess, essentially awful from start to finish, and quite, quite misogynist, yet when it was over I wanted to put Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct on my list. This movie is the result of numerous crosscurrents: Erotic thrillers were hot, although quite consistently disappointing, in the wake of Basic Instinct. The screenwriter for that film, Joe Esterhas, was for a time seen as a sure-fire hitmaker, which gradually dimmed after the release of this, Sliver, and Showgirls. Linda Fiorentino was seen as a go-to femme fatale after her role in The Last Seduction. David Caruso was trying to make the leap from TV to film, which I believe this film pretty much nipped in the bud. William Freidkin was flailing in his attempt to continue making relevant films. And producer Robert Evans was way past his prime but still looking for hits. And they all came together to produce this utter dud.
After a initial credits sequence featuring strokes of paint, we start panning around an expensively-appointed room as the remainder of the credits unfold. Soon the score is going crazy with crashes and crescendos, although absolutely nothing is happening onscreen, it's all going on ludicrously long, and, not yet two minutes in, viewer interest is in the negatives. Finally we start to hear a man arguing, and eventually screaming. Then we join our leading trio at some ball for the wealthy. Fiorentino as Trina is married to Chazz Palminteri as Matt, but used to go out with Caruso as David Corelli, district attorney. None of this is clear as of yet, and the whole scene goes by, with both men breaking in to dance with Trina, without us understanding what their relationships are.
Corelli gets a call that some guy has been killed, and Trina says that she was with him earlier that evening. He goes to the crime scene, where he is greeted by Donna Murphy in the Anne Archer role, even styled to look like Anne Archer, and supposedly a grizzled detective or something. Also present is Michael Biehn at his mustachey best. The victim is crucified to the wall in a quite gory way, and was killed with an African ceremonial hatchet. Corelli finds a number of engraved boxes, each containing a lock of hair, including one with a symbol on it. He swipes it, as well as an anchor cufflink that he found under the bed. Why does he take evidence from the crime scene? Because he's a badass ultra-cop who doesn't play by the rules.
Soon the police turn up some photos of the California governor, played by Richard Crenna, having sex with a young prostitute. Corelli goes over to see the governor, who offers no information, but makes clear that he does not hold Corelli in the highest esteem. We also introduce the governor's large assistant.
Now in here we find out for sure that Corelli and Trina used to be together, but she is now married to Matt, and they're all the best of friends. She would happen to be a criminal psychologist, whose work is on people who are so sex-obsessed they experience "hysterical blindness" during which they commit their crimes. Now, have you ever ridden an escalator and thought about how the movement emulates a gliding film camera? Well, here we have proof of why that doesn't work so well in actual film, as Trina's talk is introduced via handheld shot obviously riding up an escalator, and it really just looks like it. Turns out her prints are on the murder weapon, because she was there earlier that night, she says, but she also has no alibi for the time of the murder. Could the sultry doctor be a little sex-obsessed herself? Hmmmmm? COULD SHE BE???
While this is all happening, we are hearing of this ultra-hot prostitute Jade, who will do anything. The picture we see looks like a younger Fioentino, so I was laying money Jade turns out to be her secret daughter. In here we have a chase after a brassy prostitute, and an action scene when Corelli's brakes are cut on those high-grade San Francisco hills. Neither raise much of a pulse.
SPOILERS > > >
But WAIT, cheese-watchers. Because they fish a video out of the deceased's fireplace and his shows him schtupping--TRINA! But then the brassy prostitute is mowed down rather spectacularly by a black mustang--Trina's car--and Corelli gives chase in his sensible Ford K-car. Obvious product placement. Now you recall that Freidkin, post-French Connection, was known for his car chases, and, well, here you are. It is long and in two distinct halves, the second of which is through a Chinatown parade, where the action slows to a crawl. This was effective at the end of Blow Out, when we CARED if the character made it in time, but here it just seems like--wouldn't it be faster to get out and walk? The black car isn't going anywhere either. Anyway, both cars end up on a pier and--now this I liked--the black car comes out of nowhere and rams Corelli into the drink! It was a fun surprise, but Corelli emerges unscathed. By the way, I never watched that show Caruso was on, so at the beginning of the movie, every time they cut to him it was like suddenly seeing Ronald McDonald. But by the end I could see why he was famous and respected his tough dude routine.
So Corelli brings in Trina for questioning and the whole room gets to watch her getting boned on tape, including husband Matt. At home she tells him off that he fools around, too, and she gives him the hummer of reconciliation. Earlier, we have seen that she is not enthralled by Matt while doing the scrumpy. THEN! She goes over to Corelli's house! She wants it--and he gives in, while your eyes are rolling--but he rejects her and she fumes off. She goes home and--well, were you ready for the climax? Did you know that this movie is about to wrap up? No? Me neither! Because nothing has really developed.
Still... Trina gets home, but there are intruders! They try to kill her! Then, Corelli realizes that she's in danger, and not the killer, and he and Matt (ex and husband, side by side!) go there to save her. Danger, fight, danger, and it's revealed: the killer is the governor's assistant! AND Mustachey-Goodness Michael Biehn! AND some other cop, and they're all in on it together. And all returns to normal. BUT! At the last moment, it is revealed that MATT has the other cufflink--i.e. HE is the killer--and if you haven't figured it out, Trina is Jade. The cops were just trying to protect the governor. At the end, Matt says that he expects Trina to "let him get to know Jade," and we know that Trina is going to pay for her slutty ways by being the sexual prisoner of her husband!
< < < SPOILERS END
So it wasn't good. It was just meandering, and never gains any momentum. The story is hard to figure out, especially with a highly-influential character we barely see, and the picture of Jade that does NOT look like who she turns out to be. So you're too confused to get involved, and the action scenes are limp and feel arbitrary. And are long. And then it just ends before it feel like it's gotten going, or anything has developed.
And then there's the misogyny. It is what Esterhas is known for, and he lives up to his name here with everything driven by sleazy men using prostitutes for kinky BDSM sex. We hear about men shipping in prostitutes for sex parties, underage whores, sex with women wearing nylons over their head as degradation, videotaped sex, bondage, etc. So it's all just a bit prurient. At a certain point we see a prostitute's nude body and note that her pussy is shaved--which was a kinky touch then. Of course, it's about as exciting as last Wednesday's Cream of Wheat now. Then the climax, in which we are seemingly supposed to "heh, heh" that a woman who has taken charge of her sex life and enjoys a rather healthy and varied erotic experience is forced into being an unwilling sex slave for the foreseeable future, as though inviting us to agree that she got what she deserved. BUT WE'RE NOT THAT KIND OF PERSON, ARE WE?
So it's crap. And yet still... why does the erotic thriller hold such a eerie fascination? While bored during some of the chases, I was still involved in this from beginning to end, and when it was over, as noted, wanted more cheesy erotic thrillers. It's just the way it is.
If you like sleazy, cheesy erotic thrillers.