Blackmail Kisses

Atom Egoyan turns on the red light with this formulaic sex thriller

You couldn’t hope for a higher caliber sexploitation movie than Chloe, even if the sex thriller falls flatter than a day-old quiche. Atom Egoyan rekindles his lurking soft-core desires with a tawdry script by Eric Cressida Wilson, whose 2002 film Secretary transcended a cultural movement of sexual identity. Audiences will have no such luck with this formulaic suspense picture about sexual deception.

Julianne Moore’s Catherine Stewart is a successful Toronto ob/gyn doctor and wife to her well-liked college professor husband David (Liam Neeson). David is a loyal but inveterate flirt. His failure to make it back to the couple’s palatial modern home in time for his “surprise” birthday party sets Catherine’s teeth on edge believing that he is carrying on an affair with one of his students. Catherine makes the mistake of a lifetime when she hires local call girl Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to tempt David, to discover if her husband can be provoked into cheating. Catherine’s plan backfires when Chloe accurately reads between the lines of her employer’s intentions and strings Catherine along as her most reliable client.

Wilson’s script sets up Chloe as the film’s protagonist-apparent but backpedals around in a game of musical chairs that shifts focus between the hooker, the couple and even their romantically inclined teenaged son, Michael (Max Thieriot).

Egoyan wants to titillate his audience, and he achieves his aim with an unexpected lesbian relationship that builds after Chloe seduces Catherine. Moore and Seyfried steam up the screen in the hottest lesbian coupling since Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve got busy in Tony Scott’s 1983 vampire film The Hunger. The fact that the Moore and Seyfried share several such scenes all but guarantees the film’s eventual cult status in the realm of soft-core celebrity porn.

From the moment Chloe describes in detail her first alleged sexual encounter with David—which we objectively witness in flashback—she comprehends Catherine’s sexual obsession as a malleable desire that she, Chloe, can capitalize on from a most intimate position. But by then the story has already shifted focus and relegated Chloe as its cunning antagonist. Chloe’s evocative opening monologue, in which she expounds on her quicksilver ability to fall into any sexual stereotype role her client requires, proves to be a slithering red herring.

As such, the film squanders its most valuable narrative asset, Chloe. By focusing on the glass, steel and concrete reality of the Stewarts’ clinically austere family home rather than following Chloe into her own never-viewed personal world, Chloe loses its thematic momentum. The film slips into a predictable dilemma that punishes the audience for its curiosity about the title character. Such blackmail kisses written to cinematic ransom should be less conspicuous and considerably less ambiguous.

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