We all have our guilty movie pleasures, and cheesy, ridiculous thrillers certainly check that box for many people. But while “Fatale,” a new thriller from director Deon Taylor and writer David Loughery (the pair who also helmed 2019’s “The Intruder”), does the bare minimum to hold the audience’s attention, it doesn’t commit to the genre as hard as it could have, resulting in a film that follows all of the conventions we’ve seen before while feeling too flat to even be considered so-bad-it’s-good.
“Fatale” follows Derrick (Michael Ealy), a wealthy and successful former athlete who runs a high-profile business with his friend Rafe (Mike Colter) and is married to his beautiful wife Tracie (Damaris Lewis). But Derrick has been feeling some distance from Tracie lately. When he goes to Vegas for a bachelor party, he engages in a one night stand with a woman (Hilary Swank), but what should have been a one and done affair ultimately turns his whole life upside-down.
This is a bit of an unusual role for Swank, an Oscar-winner who one wouldn’t normally peg to play the crazy woman in a B movie thriller like this. It’s great to see her here, but I wish “Fatale” would have allowed her to have a bit more fun with it. Swank’s character Valerie is more cold and calculating than outwardly sinister or insane, but she comes off as rather bland as a result. The film tries to drum up some empathy for her by showing that she is a woman whose life changed drastically as the result of one mistake—not unlike the one mistake we see Derrick make in the movie—and her whole scheme is a way for her to try to get her old life, and custody of her young daughter, back. The vilifying of an unstable woman is a trope that is dated anyway, but somehow feels even more dated in this movie. Likewise, Ealy does what he can with his role, but the script doesn’t allow for as much emotion as some of the scenes should have. None of the characters have a lot of chemistry with each other, and the result is a film that isn’t especially tense, scary, steamy, cheesy, amusing, or dramatic.
Taylor’s direction does lend some stylishness to some of the scenes. But while “Fatale” is watchable thanks to that and to the pedigree of the actors involved, it follows similar films—especially “Fatal Attraction”—so closely beat for beat that it takes a lot of the fun out of it. There are moments where “Fatale” tries to inject some modern relevancy into its story, but it doesn’t explore these subjects in depth either. The fact that the man being persecuted is a successful Black man who could have a hard time winning justice just due to the color of his skin is a serious issue that is lightly prodded at in a radio announcer’s voiceover, but that the film doesn’t really pursue or acknowledge beyond that.
If one night, a couple years from now, you come across “Fatale” on TV or on a streaming service while looking for something to watch, you could do a lot worse. But “Fatale” really missed an opportunity to either parody or play up or even update the genre—anything but the bland parroting of the genre that it ultimately became.
“Fatale” is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 102 minutes. Rated R.
Media review link courtesy Lionsgate Films.