Remember that episode of The Office where the employees of Dunder Mifflin spent company time debating whether or not Hilary Swank could be considered ‘hot’? That accurately describes my experience watching Fatale, the new film written by David Loughery (not to be confused with talented filmmaker David Lowery) and from director Deon Taylor, whose highest rated work currently sits at 52% on Rotten Tomatoes (and it’s not this one.) It stars Michael Ealy of the poorly-received ‘romantic thriller’ The Perfect Guy and Oscar-winner Swank in the most baffling decision of her career.
Derrick (Ealy) is a former basketballer turned entrepreneur who co-owns a sports agency with his friend and business partner Rafe (Mike Colter.) His beautiful wife Tracie has lost interest in him and so, while on a trip with Rafe in Vegas, he takes off his wedding ring and decides to have a ‘single’ night. Enter Val (Swank) – her awkward dance moves say ‘inflatable tube man’ more than ‘siren’ but they work well enough to catch Derrick’s eye. Their meet cute is eerily similar to the first two minutes of every adult video I’ve ever seen, and this leads to some very swift rumpy-pumpy back at Val’s hotel. But it’s fine – this town’s ability to keep secrets about its happenings is unparalleled, so surely this indiscretion won’t follow this particular married man home…
When Derrick returns from Vegas and tries to reignite the spark with his wife, an intruder interrupts their painfully quiet love-making and attacks him, eventually running off when Derrick strikes him with a golf club (could he have used a bougier weapon?) He calls the cops and guess who turns up as the lead detective on the case? It’s Val, of course, and things are sitcom-level awkward. What follows is a story so nonsensical and needlessly convoluted that I don’t really have the time nor the will to go into it. What I’ll do instead is complain (in sometimes amusing prose) about one of the strangest films I’ve seen this year.
The most obvious thing wrong with Fatale is its persistent lack of originality. We open on a cityscape and Ealy’s wooden delivery of dialogue seemingly written by an AI that watched a bunch of Michael Mann films. Full of beloved movie cliches, I took some pleasure in ticking them off: the “it’s a dream” fakeout, the loud noises to create tension where there is none, gritty Gone Girl-esque music that doesn’t suit the scene, slow motion gun fights where no one is injured from fatal wounds, the accidental gunshot to the gut during a struggle, the old unreliable narrator trope when it’s never hinted at before, the villain confessing everything while being unknowingly recorded…there were more but I’ll leave it at that to maintain some mystery.
The other major problem with this film is its total lack of balls. Several times it is explicitly stated that Derrick is “an innocent black man” – except he’s not. Does he deserve to be stalked and framed by a ‘crazy’ white woman? No. But he instigated this whole thing in the first place and the film places absolutely no responsibility for the outcome of his infidelity in his hands. Its attempts to make statements about racial injustices are never followed through, and I would’ve been less disappointed had the film just been content with what it is rather than try to pretend it has anything to say when there are many other, better films out there doing that work already.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly considering the genre and title, this is not a sexy film in the slightest. I could forgive the incoherent plotlines and half-arsed attempts at statement-making were there some good spicy moments, but there are one and a half sex scenes and they inspire no heat from below. The first time Derrick and Val have sex, he crawls on top of her and she’s in immediate ecstasy despite still wearing underwear. The second time their parts collide, it’s on a kitchen bench and both the scene and Derrick finish abruptly. The poster for this film promised neon lust but what I got was fluorescent flaccidity.
Now for the positives – I laughed a lot. Multiple times, characters are struggling to sleep and they’ve got both bedside lamps on full brightness. If Everybody Loves Raymond could figure out how to light a bed-bound argument in the 90s there is no excuse for this kind of laziness. At the halfway point there is a random bout of gore that involves the type of CGI blood I’d expect from an early noughties direct-to-DVD horror sequel. During a gunfight towards the end there is some highly amusing Stormtrooper-level inaccuracy, followed by a recovery from a mortal wound that puts Arya Stark to shame. Though the film is of an average runtime I really started to feel the length, and I would recommend taking a flask of hard liquor and something full of trans fats with you should you make the masochistic decision to see this in theatres.
Fatale is described in its synopsis as “an unpredictable game of cat and mouse” and I have to agree. It bears a striking resemblance to the game my own cat plays where he knocks my husband’s gaming mouse off the desk and walks over the keyboard, leaving the members of the Discord chat with a string of consonantal nonsense. I’m not totally convinced that Elvis (said cat) couldn’t write a better screenplay with his feet, but I don’t think he’d be able to hold a camera and point it at the actors so Deon Taylor wins that round. (3/10)
Fatale is in cinemas now. Take someone you’re not interested in sexually.