The modern era of blockbuster filmmaking has led studios to place their entire focus on the next massive franchise they can unleash on the public. The compulsive gambler mentality that guides so much of moviemaking these days has practically killed the midbudget thriller geared for adults. Fatale, the thriller from director Deon Taylor, tries to fill the cinematic void with its sexually charged suspense. But Fatale just isn’t sexy or sleazy enough to be truly captivating. Instead, Fatale basically lives down to its premise as nothing more than a Fatal Attraction knockoff.
Derrick Tyler (Michael Ealy) is a former athlete turned agent, running his own agency out of Los Angeles. He works with his best friend Rafe (Michael Colter) and has a beautiful wife Tracie (Damaris Lewis) with whom he shares a luxurious home. Professional and personal stress is building for Derrick, and after a fight with his wife he shuffles off to Las Vegas in order to blow off some steam. In a nightclub, Derrick meets Val (Hilary Swank) and two have a one-night stand, only Derrick lies about his name and where he lives. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Derrick feels reinvigorated, fully dedicating himself to become a better husband. That night, though, an armed intruder breaks into Derrick’s home, and nearly kills him in the ensuing struggle. When the police arrive, Derrick is shocked to meet the detective on the case, Detective Val Quinlan.
Of course, Derrick’s initial deceit slowly escalates. Derrick’s professional and personal woes escalate as Val abuses her power to exert her leverage over Derrick. All the while, details of Val’s dark past start to rise to the surface. One thing becomes increasingly clear: Derrick’s problems are just beginning.
Fatale is such a conventional Fatal Attraction knockoff that there’s nothing within the film that is the least bit surprising. It makes for a somewhat frustrating viewing experience because it always feels like Fatale is pulling its punches. It’s not sexy enough to be an erotic thriller. It’s not sleazy enough to be a guilty pleasure. Worst of all, the screenplay by David Loughery fails to do much with the film’s central power imbalance, with a corrupt cop abusing her power against a would-be lover who is also a black man. There’s a bit of lip service paid to this towards the film’s end, but it comes across as an afterthought possibly added to the film over the past summer when the country was in the midst of multiple protests against police brutality.
Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank does her best with the middling material of Fatale. The film makes little effort to utilize the actress’ sex appeal in the femme fatale role, which just undermines the adult thriller aspects of the story. When it comes to Val’s overt descent into madness, Swank shows why she has two golden statuettes on her mantle. It’s hard to think of any other two-time Oscar winner that would be relegated to the villain in a B-movie, but Hollywood has been underutilizing Hilary Swank for nearly 15 years (though she was perfect in Logan Lucky). Opposite Swank, Michael Ealy tries his best to keep the film afloat, but the combination of a somewhat passive performance and an underwritten character prevents Derrick from leaving any kind of impression aside from that of a dopey protagonist that’s easily manipulated.
As much as I want more midbudget thrillers geared for adults, I don’t want them to be as formulaic and predictable as Fatale. It’s a modestly entertaining production that’s always so close to be being much more interesting than its actually is. Fatale is a movie that’s afraid to push. It’s afraid to push its characters into darker, more outlandish situations. It’s afraid to push the buttons of the audience, making them more and more uncomfortable. If this movie were just a little more sexier, a little more sleazier, and a little more crazier it could’ve been a rollicking good time. As it stands, the fatal flaw of Fatale is that it’s just too conventional.
Not quite sexy enough, not quite sleazy enough, not quite crazy enough. Director Deon Taylor’s Fatale is so close to being a wild guilty pleasure but the film consistently pulls its punches, leaving it as just another Fatal Attraction knockoff.