A film review by Craig J. Koban November 30, 2009


2009, PG-13, 105 mins.


Idris Elba: Derek / Beyonce Knowles: Sharon / Ali Larter: Lisa / Jerry O’Connell: Ben


Directed by Steve Shill / Written by David Loughrey


If you have answered “yes” to one or more of those offerings, then there is no reason whatsoever to waste any of your valuable time on OBSESSED, which takes great pains to copy nearly every single prosaic, perfunctory, and ham-infested cliché of the girlfriend/temptress-from-hell genre.  Some films operate purely on autopilot, whereas truly rudimentary and by-the-book efforts like OBSESSED go well beyond being mechanical; this film one big 105 minute prop. 

What possessed smart, attractive, and well meaning people to participate in such a deplorably forgettable bore like this?  Beyonce Knowles – who was so wonderful in DREAMGIRLS – not only decided to sign the dotted line as lead actress, but also as a producing partner with – as inexplicable as it seems – “Magic” Johnson.  Yes, that one.  The only serious rationale was either (a) they thought that there was a story here that was worthy of being told or (b) that there was a film here that could nab them all a quick and easy paycheck.  I would opt for the latter explanation, seeing as there is no other possible reason beyond financial for OBSESSED to be made.  However, maybe Knowles desperately was trying to harness her inner Pam Grier, seeing as she occupies a catfight near the film’s inordinately preposterous conclusion that involves her screaming, “I’ll wipe the floor with your skinny white ass” to the Caucasian female villain. 

Nothing is surprising or even remotely off-kilter in this genre film.  Not one thing.  It goes along the safest and most conventional trajectory without even a hint of taking this material into new, uncharted ground.  What we have here for the plot is nothing that we have not been exposed to endless times in the past (and done better, I might add).  We have a wealthy, attractive, and happy young upper class couple living their American Dream existence only to have it irrevocably shattered with the appearance of a sexy and alluring new office colleague of the husband. The woman - seemingly ordinary at first, showing normal feelings of attraction and yearning towards the husband – quickly morphs into a vengeful and cunning psychopath that will stop at nothing to ensure that she and her “prey” will live happily ever after.  Of course, this leads to the obligatory misunderstandings between husband and wife, which leads to a hasty break-up, which further leads to a reconciliation and is concluded by the couple defending their very lives from this textbook nut job.  

Blah, blah, blah, blah… 

Sharon (Knowles, bland and forgetable) and her husband, Charles (Idris Elba, giving an reassuringly grounded and believable performance throughout the film’s ridiculous shenanigans) have been married for three years and have recently had a baby boy.  Derek is steadily climbing the corporate ladder, as he is an executive vice president of an L.A. asset management firm.  He has it all: good looks, a tremendously secure job, a hot babe of a wife, an adorable son, and a three-story home in a posh and affluent neighborhood.  They also have a super sweet Mercedes-Benz.  Things could not be better for the pair. 

A wrench is thrown into the couples’ perfectly well oiled machine of a life in the form of Lisa Sheridan (Ali Larter, an attractive actress, but never once convincing as a mentally deranged stalker), who is a new temp that displays an unusual amount of faithfulness and loyalty to her new boss in Derek.  Initially, Lisa outwardly seems like an intelligent, proactive, and determined secretary, catering to every need of her employer.  As days go by, though, she begins to display some deep felt attraction towards Derek, but is it just idle infatuation or a modest schoolgirl crush that she will get over?  Alas, the film’s script is not sly and crafty enough to tease viewers with the tantalizing possibilities, so instead it decides to go the simplistic route and make her a paranoid, delusional maniac in heels.  The tip off to her psychosis is revealed with every methodical beat of the film’s obvious music score, which bellows with tension-filled chords whenever a vile and despicable thought crosses her mind. 

Of course, when we have the requisite scene in the film where Lisa is introduced to Derek’s wife, she instantly sees her as an obstacle that must be overtaken.  Sharon on the other hand immediately does not trust or like this new temp, perhaps because she is very easy on the eyes and her husband’s eyes have been known to wander.   Yet, Derek calmly reassures Sharon that this temp is only at the office for a short while and that nothing is prone to happen between the pair.  Yet, what both of them fail to see is that Lisa is a conniving predator that will use an astounding array of clever manipulations and traps that will make Derek appear as a lustful, amoral, woman hungry adulterer and she as the innocent babe in the woods.  Clearly, Derek progressively gets more defensive with each turn of Lisa’s warped plan to win him over, and she is not easily swayed.  Even after Derek's repeated attempts to turn her away for good, she still peruses, right up to a fateful moment in the film when she pops a date rape drug in his martini while he’s on a business trip.  Things snowball really quickly from this point, and it's only a matter of time before we have a climatic confrontation between Lisa and Sharon as to whom has the right to spend the rest of their life with Derek.   


OBSESSED has three commendable traits: Firstly, the cast is attractive; they are nice to look at.  Secondly - and more seriously -  I liked how Elba’s husband figure (unlike, say, Michael Douglas’ fairly amoral and questionable character in FATAL ATTRACTION) is presented as a fairly decent and honorable man.  He’s neither a male slut, nor an unfaithful man to his wife, nor does he give into temptation with the very sultry and available Lisa.  Lastly, everyone loves a catfight, and the conclusion (which is revealed in the trailers, so no need for a spoiler warning here) offers up a fist-pumping, teeth-clenched, woman-on-woman donnybrook between Sharon and Lisa, which certainly appeases to the film’s target audience; that is to say viewers that will get easy and cheap thrills from seeing an empowered black woman kicking the crap out of a fanatical and loony white chick.  Perhaps what could have made OBSESSED more tolerable on a cheeky and subversive level is if it more broadly embraced its blaxploitaion leanings.   Make no mistake: they are there.  When you have a black female hero and a white female villain, it’s hard to overlook the racial overtones, and the film could have become an entertainingly sordid and sleazy affair if it had more nerve. 

Alas, nerve is what OBSESSED lacks in spades; it’s funny, but for being deemed as an erotic thriller, the film is anything but erotic (which is not helped by the stunted and nerveless PG-13 rating...sigh).  Beyond its disapprovingly docile tone, the script by David Loughery (THE STEPFATHER, THE GOOD SON, and last year’s fiercely wrongheaded LAKEVIEW TERRACE) manages to turn a blind eye to rationality and realism at every turn.  For example, the more Lisa turns on to Derek, the more he subverts the experiences and does not tell anyone about it, including his office’s HR department.  Clearly, Derek naïvely lives within a tight and ignorant cultural bubble, having never seen movies where characters like him have starved off the advances of co-workers, only to say nothing to their superiors and bosses which leads to them later being brought up on false charges of sexual assault by the woman.  However, Derek does adhere to the principles of the “Idiot Plot Syndrome” in the instance that he allows everything to happen to him...seeing as he is an idiot.   

Then there is the character of Lisa herself, whom is rarely a compelling antagonist here; she’s more of an engine that is used to propel the story than a flesh and blood persona.  Instead of giving her plausible motivations and getting into her twisted mindset, Lisa is cartoonishly developed as a sick and outrageously warped human being.  By failing to give us a portal into her prerogative, OBSESSED is almost never scary or sinister.  All Lisa becomes is a vanilla (pun intended) stock villain right out of the cliché factory, which is not aided by how ludicrously broad Ali Larter plays her.  Since this oversexed, man-hungry creature is never intriguing, never realistically drawn, and never even attains a level sophisticated menace, Lisa emerges as a character that invites scornful laughter, which is not the intended effect. 

And I guess that’s what ultimately is what hurts OBSESSED the most; this female-predator domestic thriller is just dull, lifeless, and without anything approximately innovation or creativity.  It’s a thriller that just spins its wheels with such an exasperating repetitiveness.  Films like this – even the ones where you can see precisely where they are heading before the final credits roll by – still manage to generate a legitimate sense of unease and pathos.  OBSESSED inspires a lot of giggles, eye rolling, and chair-squirming yawns.  Lacking a sense of timeliness or veracity with its underlining story, combined with a scandalously unsexy and ridiculous tone throughout, there is very little to obsess about while watching OBSESSED.  Yes, it’s a momentary giddy thrill to see Beyonce Knowles talking a good game of trash while methodically beating on her white devilled prey near the film’s conclusion, but the film leading up to that sensationalistic moment perhaps was not smutty, trashy, or sensationalistic enough.  Instead, OBSESSED is just another in a painfully long list of empty-calorie, low rent stalker thrillers that is far-too-easily avoidable. 

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