Fatale (2021)

Michael Ealy and Hilary Swank star in "Fatale" from director Deon Taylor. (image courtesy Lionsgate)

Review

FATALE (2020)

Hilary Swank, Michael Ealy, Mike Colter, Danny Pino, Tyrin Turner, Sam Daly, David Hoflin, Damaris Lewis, Kali Hawk, Geoffrey Owens

Directed by Deon Taylor

Michael Ealy’s married sports agent character Derrick proclaims “Life is a road straight and narrow. Stay on the road and it will take you safely home.” Of course, Derrick veers off course when he has a one-night stand with Valerie an obsessed police detective played by Oscar winner Hillary Swank. What could have been another predictable “Fatal Attraction” knockoff, is actually a well-polished psychological thriller that rises above mediocrity thanks to Ealy and Swank who keep “Fatale” interesting. It’s not groundbreaking but it’s not bad either.

Screenwriter David Loughery has become the king of B-movie psychological thrillers. They usually incorporate a diverse cast with a couple being terrorized by a nutjob or a crooked cop, the kinds of films that became staples at dollar cinemas in the 90s. “Fatale” sticks to the tried-and-true formula but director Deon Taylor takes steps to elevate the genre that includes pairing Michael Ealy, his charismatic star of “The Intruder” with proficient actress Hillary Swank who is fun to watch in villain mode, a continuation of her surprising performance in last year’s Blumhouse thriller “The Hunt.”

The film also benefits from the electrifying cinematography of Dante Spinotti whose known for collaborating with Michael Mann on “Manhunter,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat,” “The Insider,” and “Public Enemies.” Since Taylor’s film takes place in Los Angeles, who better than the man who captured the City of Angels in both “Heat” and Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential” to bring out L.A.'s energy. The visuals and lighting are at times electrifying.  

Former college hoops star Derrick (Ealy) runs a successful sports agency that handles some of the highest-paid athletes. His partner Rafe (Mike Colter) is the personality behind the company while Derrick is the quiet, disciplined, hard worker behind the scenes. On the outside, Derrick has a perfect life. He lives in a multi-million-dollar mansion in the hills with his beautiful wife Traci (Damaris Lewis), he drives a nice car, and wears the finest suits. But all the hard work has put a strain on Derrick and Traci’s marriage. He’s never around and so the romance has faded away.

After Rafe convinces Derrick to join him in Vegas for a bachelor party (yes, he’s really reluctant to go) he advises his partner and best friend to take off his wedding ring and have a little fun. Enter Valerie (Swank) the kind of girl who goes to the club by herself, dances by herself, and tells guys that hit on her to “f-off” until she doesn’t. She makes eye contact with the sex-deprived entrepreneur and its game over.  But don't always believe what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  

Valerie seduces Derrick. They have a night of passionate sex and the next morning when he attempts to sneak out of the room, she refuses to give him his cell phone (which she locked in the safe while he slept) unless he jumps back in bed for another round of lovemaking. Laughs are soon replaced by an uncomfortable silence as we get the first glimpse of Valerie the psycho.

Derrick returns to L.A. just in time to fend off a masked intruder in his home who attempts to kill him. When the police arrive on the scene Derrick is surprised to see his Vegas tryst come back to haunt him when Valerie shows up as the lead detective on the case. She’s also surprised that he’s actually a married man and begins this cat and mouse wordplay that’s fun to watch, “I’m certain I know you from somewhere” to which Derrick responds, “I don’t think so.” Don’t worry the cat remains in the bag for now and away we go.

There’s also an a-hole ex-husband (Danny Pino) on Team Val plus a custody battle and alcoholism to keep things bumping while Team Derrick brings in an ex-con cuz (Tyrin Turner) who is willing to do whatever it takes to help out his family.

“Fatale” could have easily become another “Fatal Attraction” knockoff but not under Taylor’s watch. The director is aware of what he’s working with and seems determined to bring the genre back up to par with films “Single White Female,” “Swimfan,” the recent “Greta” and of course the Glenn Close-Michael Douglas thriller. It doesn’t always work as the film becomes predictable, but Swank is compelling to watch, Ealy is solid as the tortured protagonist and the film’s cinematography makes it visually appealing.

(3 stars)

Now showing at Cinemark 12 and available to rent On-Demand

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic. 

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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