Hilary Swank is a wonderful actress and a two-time Academy Award winner, but playing a seductive temptress is a poor fit for her. She projects such intelligence onscreen that believing her as a character who has to rely on sexuality to get what she wants is difficult. Surely, someone so smart could – and would – use her brains. This miscasting is just one of the problems with Fatale, a movie that pretends it's going to be more than the second-rate Fatal Attraction ripoff it really is.
The main character is actually Derrick (Michael Ealy). He's a super-successful brand manager whose business, run with partner Rafe (Michael Coulter), has made him very wealthy. Derrick also has the requisite gorgeous wife, Traci (Damaris Lewis). They're having a few marital problems, so when he goes to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, bad stuff is primed to happen. In a club, he meets Valerie (Swank), who flirts with him like there's no tomorrow, leading to a one-night stand. The next morning, he slinks away from the hotel room they've shared, much to her consternation.
Upon arriving back home, a prowler breaks into Derrick's house and tries to kill him. The cops are called, and who do you think the detective assigned to investigate is? That's right, it's Valerie! What a one-in-a-quadrillion coincidence! Being generally unhappy with Derrick, she sees this as an opportunity for revenge. Whereas in Fatal Attraction the mistress didn't want to “be ignored,” Valerie has a whole other motive – one that requires a lot of dull exposition about her ex-husband and the custody arrangement they have.
The weird thing about Fatale is that it opts to ignore the interesting angle it introduces. Let's be honest: a movie in which a Black man cheats on his Black wife with a white woman practically begs to say something about race in America. We're led to believe that the story is going to address why Derrick chooses to betray his beautiful Black spouse with a white stranger, and how Traci might react if she learned about the fling. Taking that approach could have yielded thought-provoking ideas about racial stereotypes in sex. It's therefore surprising that Fatale goes out of its way to suggest something race-related in the Derrick/Valerie attraction, only to abandon the concept not long after.
Instead, writer David Loughery (Lakeview Terrace) and director Deon Taylor (The Intruder) are far more interested in recycling a generic psycho-mistress-from-Hell tale, with Valerie continually making Derrick's life difficult one way after another. We've seen this kind of story before, in various ways. When Fatale does try to freshen it up, it's through wild twists that, although mildly amusing, leave a fair share of plot holes in their wake.
Those lurid bits do afford the film a certain watchability. At points, the picture is so absurd that it becomes oddly entertaining. That's partially due to the fact that the actors don't seem to be in the same movie. Ealy overacts in showing Derrick's anguish, as though he's reaching for an Oscar, while Swank -- apparently aware that she's starring in B-grade junk -- starts to camp it up with a pale variation on the ice-cold ruthlessness Sharon Stone nailed so brilliantly in Basic Instinct.
Fatale wants us to believe that it has big things to say, but at the end, we're left with some pretty obvious messages about the destructiveness of infidelity and the need for personal integrity. Even if it isn't the worst trashy thriller ever made, there are plenty of trashy thrillers that are far more rewarding to watch.
out of four
Fatale is rated R for violence, sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.