*/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras C
starring Idris Elba, Beyoncé Knowles, Ali Larter, Christine Lahti
screenplay by David Loughery
directed by Steve Shill
by Bryant Frazer When Hollywood types assimilate exploitation tropes and tactics, they start concocting films like Obsessed, in which Skinny White Bitch Ali Larter runs seriously afoul of Virtuous Black Woman Beyoncé Knowles by throwing herself at Good Husband Idris Elba. In fact, Obsessed is less a movie than it is a marketing plan, calculated to snare audiences entranced by its whiff of sex, celebrity, and dysfunctional race relations. Sure, those are movie-ready elements, but when they're mixed up by filmmakers as staidly unimaginative as the audience they're targeting, the recipe has a distinctly unsavoury flavour combination--gutless as well as tasteless.
Everyone in this film is a stereotype, every conversation a cliché. There's not a single surprise to be had in its long, long minutes of noncommittal flirtation, subsequent descent into psycho-stalker territory, and final-reel slugfest. Derek Charles (Elba) is a well-paid asset-management type with a brooding, handsome look, a self-deprecating sense of humour, and a beautiful wife, Sharon (Knowles). All is well in this ridiculously successful marriage until a slender, sultry minx named Lisa (Larter) starts temping--and tempting--in Derek's office. Derek is a mite over-friendly with Lisa at first, result being he would need a Taser to have a hope of peeling her off him later. But the film tiptoes next to that line, making Derek ever-so-slightly receptive to Lisa's advances--enough that Sharon's righteous anger later in the film is understandable, though stopping shy of investing Derek with any real moral culpability.
It's left to Lisa to go to increasingly ridiculous lengths in her loony game of "If I Was Your Girlfriend." At an office Christmas party, she locks herself in a bathroom stall with him, to no sexual avail. Via e-mail, she sends him pictures of herself (fully clothed!). In the passenger's seat of his car, she whips open her trenchcoat, displaying lavender granny-panties and fishnet hose underneath. That moment reveals her as an R-rated seductress who wears distinctly PG underwear, a glimpse of which director Steve Shill treats, absurdly, as the libidinal equivalent of Sharon Stone's briefly visible snatch in Basic Instinct. And in a scene later on, Lisa slips a roofie into one of Derek's drinks, sneaks into his hotel room, and apparently rapes him. I use the word "apparently" because, despite the fact that she is seen climbing on top of him and asking, "Does that feel good?", both characters remain dressed before, during, and after the putative sex scene. For all the overtones of sexual obsession and impropriety, this is a resolutely chaste movie--the producers seem to have been seriously concerned that it be able to play on TV with no edits for content. Which should give you an idea how absolutely tepid the whole thing is.
It takes a while, but Derek's repeated scornings finally send a message, and Lisa retaliates by downing a near-fatal fistful of pills. That's the transgression that gets Sharon involved, as she learns of Derek's troubles from a cop (Christine Lahti) who's quizzing him about his relationship to the hospitalized psycho woman. Marital relations devolve from there but the film eventually makes its way back to a place where Sharon finds herself defending home, hearth, and family from the crazy, conniving blonde who would take it all away from her. Played for laughs and outrageous shock value--and, perhaps, affixed with what somebody posting to IMDb claims was its working title, the self-parodic Oh No She Didn't--this material could be huge fun. Yet Obsessed never acknowledges the deliberate seaminess of its concept, instead playing it as a straight dramatic thriller. In that context, the big catfight at the end of the film is just a little bit ugly. Naturally, Sharon comes out on top (and in spectacular fashion), but the woman who draws her rage is clearly mentally ill, and if Derek were the professional he claimed to be, he would never have let their relationship escalate into that kind of chaos. My point is the poor woman needs treatment, not a bludgeoning.
Is it crazy of me to say some kind words for the homewrecker? That's part of my reaction against the film's sexual and racial politics, which appear to congratulate viewers' tendencies towards suspicion and mistrust based on gender, class, colour, and even sexual orientation. (Lisa's one friend in Derek's office is the token gay.) Derek and Sharon are, clearly, a black couple who have made it in a very white world, and the film reinforces the idea that their paranoia about having that taken away from them is justified. Maybe it is. Actually, I do like the way Obsessed shows the potential insanity of the high-stakes working life for anyone who's trying hard to be part of a family. I wanted to yell at the screen, "Step away from the desk, dude. Spend some time with your wife and kid!" Alas, the film never stops to explore the siren's-call quality of careerism, where Derek's real troubles began.
Furthermore, I keep imagining what might have happened if the female roles had been reversed--what if Knowles were cast as the slutty she-devil bent on breaking up a happy family and Larter as the pretty, perky wife defending her husband and her territory against the incursion? Now that would be a substantially controversial, entertaining, and progressive approach to this material--a movie, in other words, actually worth making.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
This Blu-ray Disc is another example of an exemplary Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release of completely marginal product. The film, shot in widescreen Super35, uses the current go-to palette for urban-thriller cinematography, with inky blacks and saturated colours enhanced, no doubt, through digital manipulation in post. Scenes set in and around Derek's office environment have a cool blue cast to them, while those that take place in his home life with Sharon are dramatically warmer in tone. The HD transfer handles these dramatic swings in colour temperature like a champ, and the image is dusted with a very light layer of grain that feels appropriate for a high-gloss contemporary film. Elba, the movie's visual anchor, looks great throughout, the transfer conveying not only the deep tones of his skin, but also properly accentuating the highlights that catch his face in low-key lighting situations.
On BD, Obsessed boasts Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio in English, French, and Portuguese. The dialogue track is quite strong and the mix makes reasonably good use of the surrounds for placing the hum of composer Jim Dooley's strings as his piano plunks away up front. When a pop song like "American Boy" shows up, it sounds a little thin and reprocessed as its stereo mix is stretched to every corner of the room. The racket of "Play That Funky Music," awash in party ambience, comes across better.
Special features consist of a trio of documentary shorts in 16x9 HD. If "Playing Together Nicely" (16 mins.) is essentially a study in hackwork, at least the participants seem to be speaking frankly about their reasons for getting involved with the high-concept idea, originally floated by Screen Gems honcho Clint Culpepper. "This is a movie that's going to get made," screenwriter David Loughery says, recounting his thought process upon hearing the pitch. "So I said, 'Sign me up.'" When the project crossed his desk, director Steve Shill notes, "Beyoncé was already attached, so it was pretty hard to refuse." Let's hear it for expedient career moves! Although "Girl Fight!" (11 mins.), featuring contributions from stunt coordinator/second-unit director Lance Gilbert, should satisfy anyone interested in the process of fight choreography in general, it's not especially compelling as a case study, except perhaps for the business about Beyoncé's high heels. Lastly, "Obsessed: Dressed to Kill" (10 mins.) interviews production designer Jon Gary Steele, cinematographer Ken Seng, and costume designer Maya Lieberman. If clothes are your thing, I guess you'll be happy.
The disc is rounded out by a re-tooled "Blu-ray Disc: High Definition Movies" promo stressing romance, glamour, and hunkiness, as well as HD previews for Not Easily Broken, Cadillac Records, The Da Vinci Code Extended Cut, Lakeview Terrace, The Pursuit of Happyness, Stomp the Yard, First Sunday, and Seven Pounds. Originally published: September 13, 2009.