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Seduction, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"First Tantalizing Then Trite"
2 stars

One of those long-forgotten '80s oddities that got critically savaged at the time but isn't as bad as reported.

It's a shame The Seduction ultimately self-destructs due to a plethora of logic loopholes and behavioral inconsistencies, because for a while it's surprisingly admirable stuff being that it stars the usually-underwhelming Morgan Fairchild and has been written and directed by the same man who gave us the underwhelming Tourist Trap last time out. It's a psychological thriller, which can be tricky when not handled right, and it's a pleasure to be taken in at how David Schmoeller tactfully pulls us into his story and builds the scenes. The movie opens with a slow-motion opening-credits sequence as Fairchild's rich-and-famous television newscaster Jamie Douglas swims in her pool at night in the nude; this unbroken one-shot is filmed close in, and we don't really see much nudity, and we don't need to because the sensitive camera and luscious music score accentuate the erotica of this beautiful creature. It turns out she's being watched by one person known and one unknown to her: the former, her newspaper journalist boyfriend Brandon, (Michael Sarrazin) who's standing on the patio admiring his ungodly good fortune; and the latter, professional photographer Derek (Andrew Stevens), who's snapping photos of her from his abode up the hill. Brandon tells her he likes watching her, and Jamie says she likes being watched; it's a nice bit of twisted humor of Schmoeller's with us knowing what the story is about and his allowing us to share in the joke -- the ethereal Jamie is used to being admired yet has no idea she's inadvertently drawn a mentally-unstable stalker into the private life she takes comfort in and has taken for granted. At first, Derek seems harmless enough; in fact, in a neat touch, he's not some mediocre-looking nondescript but a very handsome man who's actually better looking than Brandon, and, as Stevens plays him, is exceedingly charming. He has a pretty assistant, Julie (Wendy Smith Howard), who's in love with him; over a cup of coffee she asks him if he feels there's someone special out there for him (hoping that someone is her), to which Derek confesses a past infatuation for a female college professor whom he never confessed his feelings for because it was better with it being left unsaid than said and being rejected. Julie suggests they start dating; a deeply-flattered Derek declines, though -- he lies that he's seeing someone, yet in his own mind he's not lying because he is seeing Jamie, even if it's from afar, a stage he's sure will progress once he takes that chance and lets Jamie know how he feels.

Derek, having somehow gotten hold of her unlisted home number, starts calling her and asks her to meet him, which Jamie naturally declines; he calls her at the station, leaving messages that he'll call back later; and he even has some flowers delivered there with his name attached. Jamie, who anchors the news to millions of viewers every evening, is used to attracting a good many admirers, and she doesn't see Derek as a threat; but he starts slowly unnerving her as the phone calls increase, and one day he shows up in her private office with a gift-wrapped box of candy, yet the scene doesn't play out like we think -- he offers the gift and a verbal apology for his actions, and assures her she won't hear from him again. Her outrage softens, and she takes him at his word and offers him well as he leaves. When she tells Brandon about it, he's (correctly) dubious, pointing out that if Derek were serious about leaving her be he wouldn't have dropped by the station. Interestingly, later that evening at his home Derek himself has an unexpected visitor, as Julie has dropped by and proceeds to confess her unbridled love for him; he, again, rejects her, insisting that he's soon to be married. So far these are four well-drawn characters acting realistically as far as these things go, and Schmoeller does the wise thing by sublimating the instinct to get overly weird on us. The assured, handsomely mounted camerawork, with seductive gliding shots like De Palma's in Dressed to Kill, isn't just expressive but pulls us into the goings-on on a subjective level where we're like active participants; The Seduction isn't an impersonally directed production that keeps us at a distance -- it deftly places us in both Jamie's apprehensive and Derek's voyeuristic states, especially in a marvelously staged scene in a department store where Jamie thinks she recognizes Derek's voice coming from someone a few counters over who looks like him talking to a salesman who Jamie just got through talking to, but she can't be sure because her view is partially obscured by another salesman trying to interest her in something. And, though it must have certainly been tempting, Schmoeller doesn't employ your typical nerve-jangling music score: the one by Lalo Schifrin, who's done a lot of crime pictures and whose work can sometimes be overdone, is sparse and dexterous, eliciting a slight feeling of unease but not too much -- it leaves us to fill in the blanks of whether we're maybe starting to read too much into things.

Derek's actions do become more flagrant and forceful. He barges into Jamie's house after she opens the door and chases her around while snapping endless photos of her now-panicked self; Brandon shows up, beats him up and shoves him out the door. He shows up in a public place and offers her a gift of an expensive heart-shaped music box; she slaps the object out of his hand, berates him and walks away, with plenty of shocked passers-by casting distrustful glances onto him, who's left humiliated. (He's just professed his ultimate love to her, after all, and his confused look suggests he thinks he's the one who's just been abused.) A policeman friend of Brandon's is consulted, and, while sympathetic, explains that since Derek hasn't threatened Jamie's life he can't offer her protection or arrest Derek. And it's about here where the otherwise-plausible story starts showing its credibility gaps. Derek may not have broken into Jamie's home (she opened the door thinking it was someone else), but he did illegally enter; and since Jamie is wealthy why doesn't she just hire a bodyguard? She doesn't have installed a home security system; she doesn't even have her phone number changed. The news station apparently hasn't notified either security (we don't see a single guard) or the employees to be on the lookout for Derek because he manages to show up two more times unnoticed, going so far as sitting at a desk right out in the open and typing out on a special machine a love confession that gets fed into the teleprompter, which Jamie inadvertently starts reading on the air before her realization (and horror) becomes full-blown. And we start asking questions of earlier things we trust were going to be explained that aren't, like how Derek is spying on Jamie from a house in the Hollywood Hills that surely he'd be noticed at before. And can child and family photography, which he specializes in, bring in that much dough for a place in that ritzy area? Why does the zenith-level-infatuated Derek never watch Jamie when she's on TV? (In Eyewitness, William Hurt's far-less-wealthy janitor character bought a VCR just so he could tape newscaster Sigourney Weaver's broadcasts while he was working.) Why does Brandon tell Jamie there's nothing to worry about because the police now know who Derek is before they've even made contact with Derek? And how do the police find out who Derek is when all they have is his first name and he doesn't have an arrest record?

But this is nothing compared to the final, painfully-prolonged twenty minutes that are as mind-numbingly idiotic as the first twenty minutes are cerebral and superb. It depends on two characters becoming as brain-challenged as you can get without the benefit of a frontal lobotomy: it's one of those tables-are turned things right out of Straw Dogs -- that is, if Dustin Hoffman were the simpleton rather than the one protecting the simpleton. The characters would have to possess ESP to know what the other would do or not do next; and it gets disgustingly exploitive where the earlier sections were admirably restrained. I can appreciate Schmoeller trying to go an atypical route in the first five minutes of this last section, but even if we could accept the palpably absurd actions of the characters, which not even the most doped-to-the gills stoner could, it's all but nullified because Schmoeller cops out by ultimately resolving the conflict in a blatantly typical way. Schmoeller also drops the ball by not taking advantage of a terrific potential plot twist that was sitting right there in his lap. Jamie has been covering the Sweetheart Murders that have been plaguing the area, and being that this is given screen time on four occasions we assume it's going to figure in later down the line, and it doesn't. Maybe Schmoeller wants us to think Derek's responsible, that he's been taking out his ultimate dark side on the young female victims and expunging his violence through them out of his frustration of not being able to be with Jamie, but it's not even remotely developed. What if the killer were Julie, slaying the women to metaphysically kill the woman she's jealous of who she thinks Derek's seeing? What if she were revealed to be as obsessive as Derek? He could've come face-to-face with his female doppelganger. The way it plays out, though, Derek has to finally be violent because the plot requires him to; he's made deviously deranged, which, of course, is taking the easy way out. And Stevens, though a very likeable actor, lacks the talent and imagination to make Derek's turn menacing and believable the way, say, Michael Biehn excellently managed as the psychopathic title character in the slightly-superior The Fan from the year before. Too bad, because when The Seduction works it works well. But when a moviemaker commits miscalculations and dwindles everything down to a blood-and-guts conclusion, it's his artistic integrity that's the real thing gutted in the end.

What few fans this movie has will be pleased at the pristine DVD transfer and the decent array of special features.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23240&reviewer=327
originally posted: 12/04/11 19:15:44
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User Comments

12/11/11 Charles Tatum Pretty awful, despite Fairchild's awesome assets 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  22-Jan-1982 (R)
  DVD: 07-Nov-2006

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