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‘Obsessed’ loses its heat, guilt in film’s racial-sexual politics



Published: Sat, April 25, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Roger Moore

“Obsessed” is a thriller built around the married woman’s worst fear — the office blonde after her husband. Make the married woman black, and you take that to another level — the black woman’s fear of that skinny white blond chasing her man.

But whoever thought remaking “Fatal Attraction” as a PG-13 thriller was a good idea earns much of the blame for this laughably arch dud. As they stumble through the minefield of racial-sexual politics, the filmmakers strip the heat and most of the guilt away from a story that was salable in seven short words — “Beyonc and Ali, third-act cat fight.”

Idris Elba is Derek, the boss of a financial planning firm with a new temp.

“I think you’ll find I’m not your typical temp,” Lisa (Ali Larter) purrs as she shows a little leg and Derek notices. He may be a Boy Scout and devout husband (and new father) now, but time was when Derek was the office hound.

He spends the entire movie avoiding Lisa’s increasingly aggressive advances.

“Temp? Temptress,” a politically incorrect colleague (Jerry O’Connell) growls.

But Derek has the stunning Sharon (Beyonc ) at home. He’s paranoid because he knows his old reputation. And she’s paranoid because she got her man the same way she sees Lisa trying to get her man — scheming, batting her eyes. Things escalate — instant-message flirting, drinks at the office Christmas party. It’s all big, strong Derek can do to fend off this cat-eyed wisp of a temp.

The Brit director of this, Steve Shill, also directed lots of episodes of Showtime’s sexed-up “The Tudors.” But he is at a loss at how to create heat between Larter and Elba.

The actor seems uncomfortable with the whole idea, and the actress struggles to keep a straight face as she hurls herself at him — in comically unsexy underwear or in the men’s room at their office.

Knowles gives a performance of big hair, big heels and big eyes until things turn all Glenn Close in the third act.

I’ve liked every one of these performers in other films, but this reduces them to broad gestures, eye-rolling one-liners and ridiculously stiff and over-the-top good husband vs. evil vamp situations.

Even the office environment seems tone deaf and out of date, from Derek’s confidence in “hedge funds” to the Christmas party and sexist banter among men (Bruce McGill is the big boss) that companies now avoid in order to dodge harassment lawsuits. The whole movie feels like something from about 1984.

It may turn out to be a crowd pleaser (if unintentional laughs count). It could have been more. “Obsessed” has can’t-miss hot-buttons built into it. But cast and crew keep fumbling around and hitting “pause” instead.


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