FATALE is a densely plotted and devilishly twisted erotic fantasy of a noir. Filmed with self-conscious style, it offers a variation on FATAL ATTRACTION that is not without merit, yet with a bemused view of womanhood that gives one pause. We are firmly ensconced in the, admittedly noir Madonna/whore paradigm here, but making a woman the smartest person of the piece does little to assuage the rankle.
In it we have the classic case of a good guy Derrick (Eric Ealy) making one, ahem, fatal mistake. But it’s not really his fault. He’s just had a fight with his adored and spectacular wife, Traci (Damaris Lewis) after which she told him she didn’t care if he went to a bachelor party in Vegas or not. He bounces back after a chat with best friend and business partner in their thriving sports management business, Rafe (Mike Colter), who tells him what a good husband he is and then confiscates his wedding ring, Derrick succumbs to the (further ahem) fatal charms of the seductive stranger (Hilary Swank). What should be a no-string attached fling in Vegas, she was just there blowing off steam from her high-stress job after all, naturally turns into a nightmare for our hero. On the very night that he cooks dinner for Traci and they reach some sort of accord, an intruder breaks into their posh hillside home, and the detective investigating is none other than the no-strings-attached fling. And, further naturally, she’s as complicated as Derrick’s life is about to be.
It seems that Derrick has been living in a fool’s paradise as Valerie, the detective, exposes the suitably noir seamy underbelly of Derrick’s life. In short order, there is a body count to drive home the disillusionment, and he has been framed for a murder he didn’t commit. All the while, there is Valerie, assuring him that what happens in Vegas stays there, and revealing, bit by bit, that her agenda is anything but sexual.
David Loughery’s script takes on such time-honored noir tropes as official corruption in the person of Danny Pino, who figures into Valerie’s backstory full of personal demons and unresolved vengeance. Swank is genuinely terrifying as the calculating detective with a voracious sexual appetite and the smile more deadly in its ulterior motives than a shotgun blast. Her character’s throbbing intensity could have failed altogether with out the coolness in which Swank packages the psychopath who can pass for normal unless pushed too far.
Ealy is also good, but saddled with a character who is too good to be true. Xxxx gives him a mildly checkered past, no nuance, no trace of darkness that would make Derrick as interesting study in ethical struggle. That all the nubile women in his life are harridans doesn’t help, except, of course, for his saintly mother (Denise Dowse), the one who gives him a kick in the pants by way of a pep talk and reminds him that the only thing of value he ever had is his good name.
FATALE’s strongest point is it firmly entrenching itself in fantasy, even our detective lives in digs that are Architectural Digest approved. The plot holes are tidily subsumed into the dark vibes of unreality, with an effect is that is just short of parody, and anchored firmly in Swank’s performance. She is a virago on a mission that may not be savory, but sure is mesmerizing.