“Breathe,” Derek Charles says, as he vigorously shakes the leggy blonde psychotic in his hotel bed. “Bitch, breathe!”
And with this line, another awesomely campy stalker flick is born.
Trust me. You already know the plot of the newest Beyonce vehicle, Obsessed: naive married corporate exec (Elba) runs afoul of the wrong temp. You’ve seen it all before: things start off innocently enough (benign flirtation in the break room), then before long, the crazy chick can’t hide her crazy anymore and out come the crocodile tears, the trench coats covering presumed nakedness, and those ridiculous IM windows with the super-stupid, super-obvious screen names (here, Ali Larter’s Lisa calls herself TEMPGIRL).
The ending is telegraphed before the opening credits finish flashing (over a too-loud soundtrack of really crappy music). All the characters are pat and underwritten. The budget’s clearly low (The lace-front on Beyonce’s curly wig is visible in almost every scene.), despite the truckload of “executive producers, including Magic Johnson, Mathew Knowles, and Beyonce (which would explain the laborious, overlong caress of the camera on the latter as she emotes). The dialogue is appropriately cliche-ridden. And, like most of the stalker flicks that came before it, Obsessed relies on a great deal of doltish behavior on the part of its protagonist in order to build its plot. (That is to say: with just a few more realistic, practical choices, there wouldn’t be a movie.)
For instance, when a married man is shoved into a bathroom stall and aggressively petted by a sexy lunatic at the office Christmas party (a lunatic who could finish him, Mortal Kombat-style, in a harassment suit, if she so chose)–and he knows the whole thing has been witnessed by a peeping coworker, he should probably let it ring from the rooftops–immediately.
But such watch-your-back vigilance just doesn’t occur to Derek. Instead, he proceeds to spend the entire first half of the film making himself appear more and more suspicious, by covering up sins he hasn’t even committed. He also does a great deal of really obvious sidelong glancing, righteously indignant yelling, and foolishly premature relief-sighing.
Derek’s wife, Sharon (Beyonce) is naturally wary of Lisa the Temp—because Sharon was Derek’s administrative assistant when their storybook courtship began and, apparently, before they married, he did a great deal of interoffice dating. You’d think this, if nothing else, would be the most glaring argument in favor of Derek being forthcoming with Sharon about Lisa’s increasingly off overtures, but again: without his stupidity, there’d be no film.
As movies of this ilk go, this one’s serviceable. At turns, Beyonce and Idris have plausible chemistry as a married couple; it’s most interesting to watch as they joke about Lisa in bed (before either knows what a loon she is) and in a confrontation scene in the family kitchen. Other times, they seem like slightly distracted, but otherwise overzealous drama students doing improv.
I’m sure at this point, you’re wondering why this review has mentioned nothing of race; it’s because the film backs way, waaay off any exploration of race dynamics. It leaves the audience to its own baggage and assessment of implications. For my part, the only potentially incendiary comment came when Derek tried to call Lisa’s bluff and get her to confess “her lies” to their coworkers. When she in turn says, “If I go in there and tell them anything, it’ll be the truth,” black audiences know better than anyone that she’s right. Derek, as the firm’s only black employee, would be little match for a fragile, weeping Ali Larter.
So Derek’s next move surprises no one. And the film has, just once, succeeded in subtlety.
A tour-de-force this ain’t—not even in a genre as cheesy as this one. It doesn’t push the envelope, like its obvious model, 1987’s Fatal Attraction. (Derek is neither layered nor culpable.) It doesn’t give its stalker sufficient motivation. (Don’t the greatest stalker flicks involve a mysteriously dead ex-husband our villainess tearily claims was abusive?) And it falls victim to the oh-so-improbable Woman-to-Woman beatdown, where the man at the center of the whole conflict is curiously absent and thus spared the messy work of violent resolution.
But come on. Who isn’t into this flick for the beatdown? Trust. You won’t be disappointed (unless you’re looking for an abundance of punny smack-talk). Just turn off your brain, embrace the derivativeness, and close your ears to the Beyonce power ballad playing over the credits. (“I wanna run smash into you,” Beyonce? Really?)