Atom Egoyan's sex thriller Chloe is a pure guilty pleasure, if you take away that part about pleasure.
The devoted cast led by Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, and Amanda Seyfried really burrows into the roles, but the intense performances cannot conceal the fact that these characters are shallow narcissists at their best and outright crazy people at their worst.
This marital story of infidelity, deceit, and obsession is not much more absurd than Fatal Attraction, one of the great guilty pleasures in screen history.
Yet Chloe rings false from the start, the story is dead on arrival from the moment suspicious wife Moore, convinced husband Neeson is cheating on her, hires call girl Seyfried to push the man's buttons and see if it's true.
Really, who does this rather than just confronting the lech and having it out?
There's something off, and off-putting, about each of these characters in the screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, who adapted Chloe from the equally lurid and unsatisfying French thriller Nathalie.
The characters are so abnormal and their situation so contrived that it's impossible to sit back and enjoy the train wreck the way you can revel in Glenn Close murderously popping out of that bathtub one last time in Fatal Attraction.
The tone and explicit sensuality of Chloe are reminiscent of earlier frank dramas from Egoyan such as Exotica and Where the Truth Lies. The sex in Chloe is pretty tame and fleeting, though, robbing it of another guilty-pleasure component.
What's more boring than watching dull sex on screen is listening to people talk about dull sex on screen, and that's how the characters in Chloe spend much of their time.
The film Neeson was shooting when his wife, Natasha Richardson, was fatally injured in a skiing accident a year ago, Chloe casts him in a subordinate role as music professor David. The dominant relationship here is the one that plays out between Moore's gynecologist Catherine and Seyfried's prostitute Chloe.
Catherine and David's marriage has gone cold, and she feels she's losing touch with her 17-year-old son, Michael (Max Thieriot), who's more in sync with his dad.
After David misses a flight home on his birthday, spoiling the elaborate surprise party Catherine has arranged, she finds a text message and photo of him with a female student that stokes her suspicions.
What's a jealous wife to do? Catherine engages Chloe to test David's faithfulness (their marriage vows clearly did not include a provision against entrapment).
A sophisticated woman such as Catherine should be able to see what the audience realizes at the outset, that someone in this threesome may be more than a little nuts. But suspicion and anger escalate as Chloe relates intimate details of her encounters with David, stimulating dormant passions in Catherine.
Before long, director Egoyan is posing the questions, who's cheating on whom, who's fixating on whom? But who really cares?
These are not interesting people. Their actions are not believable. Where they end up brings no insight or satisfaction.
So maybe you'll feel a little guilty peering in on their misfortunes. But it'll be hard to take much pleasure from the experience.
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