When discussing adult-themed thrillers of the late 80s/early 90s it would be disingenuous not to include the last few films from Deon Taylor. Sure, he’s only been making movies since 2007, and yes, two of the films I’m referring to were released in 2019, but the 1990s influence is abundantly clear. The Intruder and Black and Blue carry strands of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and The Glass Shield (1994), respectively, and his latest returns once more to the world of “good” people under siege from sexy outsiders. Fatale is a silly, twisty, mildly effective mash-up of Unlawful Entry (1992) and Fatal Attraction (1987), and while the end result can’t even remotely reach their heights it’s no less entertaining for the effort.
Derrick (Michael Ealy) has spent years building his sports agency into something special along with his best friend and business partner Rafe (Mike Colter), and they know they’ve made it when far bigger agencies offer to buy their company. He’s happy where he is, though, but when he shifts his attention back to his wife Micaela (Kali Hawk) he comes to suspect he may be too late and that she might be unfaithful. A Las Vegas bachelor party gives him the chance to drown his sorrows, and he does so in the arms and sexy bits of a stranger named Val (Hilary Swank). He regrets it the next morning, although not enough to prevent a second tumble in the sheets, and heads home, but what happened it Vegas returns with a vengeance when a late night intruder tried to kill him — and the lead cop on the case is Det. Valerie Quinlan.
Fatale is a sloppily entertaining thriller that manages to squeeze a couple surprises in amidst the otherwise familiar twists and turns. Taylor and writer David Loughery — a man with quite the varied filmography including Dreamscape (1984), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Passenger 57 (1992), Money Train (1995), and Nurse 3D (2013) — offer an intriguing enough setup with a guilty man as our protagonist and run him through the proverbial ringer. Some later choices seem designed to cut him some slack, though, with one in particular making zero real-world sense, and that lessens the character’s edge in favor of making him “likable.”
Derrick’s not the greatest of guys when we first meet him, but unlike the pain suffered by similar characters elsewhere (think Fatal Attraction) who are deservedly punished along the way, the film wants viewers to forgive his trespasses and soften his pain. It makes for a far less interesting conclusion than we could have otherwise gotten — not to mention a wholly unbelievable one — and it’s a big blow against the film’s staying power. What could have been a flawed but darkly interesting thriller instead comes and goes as immediately forgettable.
The singular saving grace in Fatale is Swank’s ass-kicking nightmare of a detective with real issues. After bursting onto the scene with characters who stand up and demand viewer sympathy and support (Boys Don’t Cry, 1999; Million Dollar Baby, 2004) it’s refreshing seeing her take on the challenge of bringing interesting antagonists to frighteningly charismatic life. Starting with this year’s The Hunt (2020) and continuing here, she offers up a slight nuance to the otherwise expected villain role. There’s backstory here involving a tragedy of her own making, and Swank squeezes some empathy from viewers despite being an amoral, murderous monster. While Ealy mopes reliably throughout the film, Swank tears through craving sex and violence with equal ferocity.
There’s an interesting parallel here to Taylor’s The Intruder which also stars Ealy as one half of a married couple fending off a threatening third party. Swank is admittedly more controlled than the scene-chewing dynamo that is The Intruder‘s Dennis Quaid, and certain plot turns make this a different film, but a better version of both would see the protagonists get to be at least half as engaging as the villains.
Fatale isn’t terrible, but it’s hardly a movie that should be your first choice to watch any given night. It moves fast enough, and it both expends and requires very little thought from beginning to end, but the odds are you won’t recall much the following day. Pair it with The Hunt, though, and at least you’ll get to enjoy an entertaining double feature of Swank turned all the way to eleven.