When discussing adult-themed thrillers of the late 80s / early 90s, it would be insincere not to include the latest films from Deon Taylor. Sure, he’s only been making films since 2007, and yes, two of the films I’m referring to were released in 2019, but the 90s influence is perfectly clear. The Intruder and Black and Blue carry skeins from The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and The Glass Shield (1994) respectively and its latest return to the world of “good” people besieged by sexy outsiders. Fatal is a goofy, curvy, slightly effective mix of Unlawful Entry (1992) and Fatal Attraction (1987), and while the end result can’t even peak from a distance, it’s no less entertaining for the exertion.
Derrick (Michael Ealy) ran his sports agency for years together with his best friend and business partner Rafe (Mike Colter), and they know they’ve made it when much larger agencies offer to buy their company. He’s happy where he is, but when he turns his attention back to his wife Micaela (Kali Hawk) he suspects that he is late and that she might be unfaithful. A bachelorette party in Las Vegas gives him a chance to drown his sorrows, and he does so in the arms and sexy parts of a stranger named Val (Hilary Swank). He regrets it the next morning, although not enough to prevent a second fall in the sheets, and goes home, but what happened returns Vegas with a vengeance when an intruder tried to kill him that night – and the chief policeman in that case is Det. Valerie Quinlan.
Fatale is a sloppily entertaining thriller that manages to get a few surprises amidst the otherwise familiar twists and turns. Taylor and Writer David Loughery – A man with quite a varied filmography like Dreamscape (1984), Star Trek V: The Last Frontier (1989), Passenger 57 (1992), Money Train (1995) and Nurse 3D (2013) – offers a fascinating setup with a guilty one Man as our protagonist and lead him through the proverbial alarm clock. However, some later decisions seem to be designed to loosen him up, one in particular making no real world sense, and this diminishes the character’s advantage of making him “likeable”.
Derrick isn’t the biggest guy when we first meet him, but unlike the pain similar characters suffer from elsewhere (think Fatal Attraction) that are rightly punished along the way, the movie wants that the audience forgive his guilt and ease his pain. It’s a far less interesting conclusion than we could otherwise have reached – not to mention an entirely incredible one – and it’s a heavy blow to the movie’s staying power. What instead could have been a flawed but darkly interesting thriller comes and goes as immediately unforgettable.
The unique Salvation Grace in Fatale is Swank’s nightmare of a detective with real problems. After showing up with characters standing up and asking for sympathy and support for the audience (Boys Don’t Cry, 1999; Million Dollar Baby, 2004), it’s refreshing to see her rise to the challenge of turning interesting antagonists into one bringing terrifyingly charismatic life. Starting with this year’s The Hunt (2020) and continuing here, she offers a slight nuance to the otherwise expected villain role. There’s a backstory here that includes a tragedy of her own creation, and Swank expresses empathy for viewers despite being an amoral, murderous monster. While Ealy yearns reliably throughout the film, Swank tears at sex and violence with equal ferocity.
There is an interesting parallel here to Taylor’s The Intruder, in which Ealy also appears as half of a married couple fighting off a threatening third party. While Swank is more controlled than The Intruder’s Dennis Quaid’s scene chewing dynamo, and certain plot changes make this film a different one, a better version of either would result in the protagonists being at least half as engaged as the bad guys.
Fatale isn’t terrible, but it’s hardly a movie that should be your first choice for any particular night out. It moves fast enough and it wears out and requires very little thought from start to finish, but chances are you won’t remember much the next day. However, when you pair it with The Hunt, you can at least enjoy a fun dual role of Swank, which was shot all the way down to eleven.