Obsessed

Not many directors of photography know how to light black skin. So on the one hand, it’s nice to see a slicker-than-slick film starring two beautiful African-American actors, the D.P. (Ken Seng) knowing how to make them glow gold. Obsessed even provides a richly-deserved starring role for Idris Elba, an actor of enviable physical presence.

So why, with so much talent warming up in the bullpen, did we have to play by the hoary rules of Fatal Attraction? And even that might have been a kick, as good trash can be a kick. What we didn’t expect was to be bored out of our skulls.

How did it happen that Elba, as the mega-successful but philandering corporate exec, and Beyoncee Knowles, as his blindingly beautiful trophy wife who can keep her man in line by christening each room of the new house with carpet burns for both of them, can’t even hold our attention, let alone our interest?

The answer: nobody involved really knew what kind of movie they were making. Remember “Striptease”? Probably not, but Demi Moore was in it; it was based on a satirical novel by funny Carl Hiaasen; and it was directed by Andy Bregman, who doesn’t work nearly enough. But nobody bothered to tell Ms. Moore that the film was a comedy.

Something similar seems to have happened with Obsessed. The first four-fifths are played not as a thriller, but as a drama. It goes like this. Man is on top of the world, respected at a handsomely-paying job. His perfect wife was once a temp who occupied the desk outside his office. So he’s only human.

And you expect that when this situation (among other things) arises again – a sexy, blonde temp (Ali Larter, wow), who can switch from flirtatious to conniving to bananas in the blink of a pretty eye, occupies that same desk – the guy might be human one more time. That’s what Michael Douglas did back in the good old ‘80s, confounding every man in America who didn’t get why he would risk losing an Anne Archer combing her hair in a negligee for Glenn Close.

You might be a little gratified by the drunken heaving and pawing in the men’s room stall at the office Christmas party. You might nod in fond remembrance when the whackadoo woman shows up naked in the guy’s hotel bed (on a business trip). But then the letdown – no, the betrayal – is that this guy is a monk! Never touches her. Shoves her away, in fact, “no no”. At one point, the temp resorts to slipping him a Mickey Finn. And though she finally, after this cheat, has her way with him, sorta, the plot forgets that Christine Lahti’s police detective might like that explained.

Look, we didn’t want a monk, we wanted our stereotype validated that when it comes to sex, men are sleaze. We wanted the thrill of shameful, elevator-rocking, sink-breaking sex. We wanted hubris humbled, comeuppance delivered by a righteous wife, and the spouses coming together to defend the sanctity of the American dream. What we wanted, to wit, was a Burger King Whopper.

There is, in the end, a little nice pulp, if your date can shake you awake for it, or if you Netflix the film (time to coin the noun’s usage a s verb) – a home-wrecking catfight to give Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah a run for their money. Spread that out over the whole film, and it might even be possible to make a case for the existence of Obsessed. As it is, I never thought I’d say it, but: “Where are you when we need you, Joe Esterhaus?”

Peter Noble Kuchera

Originally from Columbus, Indiana, Peter moved to Bloomington in 1998. He completed four years of film study at the University of Minnesota and two years of film production in the Film Cities in St. Paul. He began reviewing movies for WFIU in 2003 and began producing on-air fundraising spots for WTIU in 2006. In 2008 he received a second place award for Best Radio Critic at the Los Angeles Press Club’s First Annual National Entertainment Journalism Awards in 2008. Peter passed away suddenly on June 8, 2009.

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