by Jack Sommersby
Despite Kari Wuhrer's commanding, sexy performance, this is one nondescript, downright lazy thriller which indudes more in the way of yawns than scares.After being pleasantly surprised at actress Kari Wuhrer's last direct-to-video effort, the small masterpiece of smart and sustained erotica Vivid (a.k.a. Luscious), I was hoping for much of the same with her latest, the domestic thriller Thy Neighbor's Wife (a.k.a. Poison). After all, one does not wisely go into a pic such as this expecting a whole lot in the way of coherent narrative structure and three-dimensional characters -- just a gleeful array of enjoyable thrills and steamy sex. Yet as of late, I've begun to notice a distressing trend in the home video market: where even the most disposable adult-oriented fare is way too tame in both content and execution, as if dear old Aunt Bea were watching over the director's shoulder, prepared to hide his or her fanny if anything even remotely objectionable were to materialize. Even in a hackneyed piece of tripe like Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, gorgeous bikini-clad babes skinny-dipped and hobnobbed, and not even a lousy nipple was put on display. What is the world of filmdom coming to!? Thy Neighbor's Wife, I'm sad to report, is another depressing example of this cinematic timidity.
"A Lame Domestic Thriller That Wastes Kari Wuhrer"
First, the story. Kari Wuhrer plays the wife of an upper-middle-class yuppie who, instead of getting promoted to vice president of the company, receives a pink slip instead. Depressed and drunken, he drives his car off an unfinished highway ramp and dies. An outraged Wuhrer then storms into the corporate office, makes a considerable scene, and is told by the president of the company that her husband hadn't been meeting his quota and was on his way out anyway. Enter Barbara Crampton as the icy exec, who's been newly hired to take up the v.p. position. After blowing up the president's house (with him in it, of course), Wuhrer sets her sights on Crampton, whom she aims to take out slowly. Upon killing her live-in maid, Wuhrer poses as a replacement sent by the agency, infiltrating Crampton's troubled household and soon ingratiating herself with her rebellious daughter and easy-go-lucky husband, with an ultimatum of murder to be carried out.
All right, echoes of Curtis Hanson's The Hand That Rocks the Cradle come immediately to mind, which itself was derivative of Adrian Lyne's Fatal Attraction, which was derivative of Clint Eastwood's directorial debut Play Misty for Me. Who cares, though? After all, anyone likely to rent Thy Neighbor's Wife isn't going to do so because they're seeking something of startling originality. Rather, the relied-upon goods -- nudity, sex, suspense, and violence -- are what's on the mind, which doesn't exactly work in Thy Neighbor's Wife's favor because, for unfathomable idiotic reasons, it's just a few edited minutes away from existing as a typically bland tv movie, without any indication of creative human hands ever having touched it.
There's a dire shortage of sex and skin. May I remind the reader that Kari Wuhrer is the quintessential straight-to-video sexy babe who can make Shannon Tweed pale considerably by comparison? While beautiful in the face and effortlessly charming, she's possessive of one of those libidinous figures that make men moan and pray to their god they were allowed to go through puberty. Tan and brunette, busty and voluptuous, no one's Wuhrer's equal in this particular cinematic venue (and it doesn't hurt that she can command attention even with her clothes on). Unlike the other actors on (atrocious) display here, Wuhrer is a natural with dialogue and is at ease in front of the camera. She's not in the least bit recessive -- nothing whatsoever is held back -- yet she has admirable control as an actress, never emoting, and never calling attention to her effort to act.
Still, the Talking Wuhrer scenes greatly outnumber the Naked Wuhrer scenes, which wouldn't be so bad if the story or direction enticed, which, unfortunately, they do not. I never got Wuhrer's supposedly devious plan to add up, exactly. It was the president of the company that caused her husband's ruination, not Crampton; but even with this, why doesn't she take out Crampton as immediately as she did him? Easy: there wouldn't be a movie, otherwise. Maybe if the screenplay had some tawdry twists to reveal, we could have been willing to get into the spirit of things and play along. But this is the kind of unimaginative thriller that telegraphs virtually all of its punches, like Crampton's need for insulin injections, which instantly sets off a mental alarm, where all we can do is wait for her to keel over not long after Wuhrer starts screwing with her daily dosage. Crampton's cutting her husband off at the matrimonial bed naturally makes him susceptible to Wuhrer's sexy insinuations. As with the oversexed daughter, it doesn't take long for her to warm up to the spunky Wuhrer, who, of course, is way too beautiful for any married couple to employ, much like her big-busted blonde predecessor who she eliminated earlier.
When the familiar becomes overfamiliar, and we become passive witnesses instead of wannabe participants in a movie's goings-on, it's usually time for the director to work some magic, or at least get some underlying velocity and tension into the scenes. Pity that this duty fell to Jim Wynorski, perpetrator of such inexcusable crud like Chopping Mall and The Pandora Project. Shooting a thriller mostly in interior settings can pose a challenge for even the most talented director -- Michael Cimino had a hell of a time with it in his unsuccessful 1990 re-make of The Desperate Hours -- but Wynorski's visual style is so flat, and his camerabatics so dull, that many, many scenes seem totally undirected rather than simply misdirected. There's no tension, no logical progression from one shot or scene to another, no fluidity in the cutting; and as if it weren't enough that he can't shoot an action scene to save his life, Wynorski commits the unpardonable sin of not using the camera invitingly enough during the two sex scenes, as if he were afraid of disturbing the naked actors -- who don't exactly look like they're having the time of their lives, mind you.
As for the sex scenes, Barbara Crampton's is first, and Wuhrer's is killjoyingly put off until near the end. Fans of the 1985 cult fave Re-Animator will likely recognize Crampton's name as well as her breasts, which were on bountiful display there where she was lusted over by a severed head, which, compared to her dreadful co-star here who plays her husband, might seem the preferable companion in retrospect. (Another minus: Crampton, to put it mildly, has not aged gracefully.) Yet at least she didn't have to worry that her on-screen nude frolicking might unwittingly pop some pimples on her co-star's body, which can't be said for Wuhrer, who revoltingly shares her only sex scene with a youngish-looking actor playing Crampton's home-for-the-weekend freshman son. The fact that anyone of his age was fortunate to be nude with Wuhrer inspires jealousy and wrath within me; but the fact that he's an unattractive dead ringer for American Pie's gruesome Jason Biggs just sinks an imaginary blade in even deeper. (Oh, Wynorski shoots these scenes with the impersonal touch to be found in a dishwasher commercial.)
If you haven't got the gist of it by now, Thy Neighbor's Wife is pitiful filmmaking, which is a shame because Kari Wuhrer is deserving of a whole lot more. The thing is, a lot of major actresses have gotten by on a lot less than what she has to offer. A solid supporting actress in major pictures (like John Singleton's Higher Learning and Luis Llosa's Anaconda), Wuhrer isn't any less talented or attractive than overrateds like Helen Hunt, Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan, and she's willing to try things, to disrobe if need be, and to take chances rather than playing things safe by resorting to what priggish test audiences approve to be right and wrong. Like Airheads' Amy Locane, Kari Wuhrer could be a major actress if the opportunity presented itself, but, like Locane, she's appeared nude in more than a couple of films, rendering her obsolete in a day and age where you practically have to hit the Hollywood lottery (like Sharon Stone did in Basic Instinct) to be accepted as a bankable actress who's allowed to do the full-frontal thing even if that's exactly what a lot more audience members are secretly craving to see than they'll ever care to admit.Rent Kari Wuhrer's classic sexy comedy "Vivid" instead.
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originally posted: 12/17/02 10:16:58