- Beyoncé Knowles in Obsessed
The contrived workplace-stalker "thriller" Obsessed is a profitable little pit stop for its two talented leads, Beyoncé Knowles and Idris Elba; a pinnacle of sorts for TV and PG-13 bad girl Ali Larter; and a movie so clearly destined for heavy rotation on the Lifetime Movie Network that I kept waiting for the filmmakers to cut away to a Weight Watchers ad.
Think I'm joking? Feast your eyes on the plot synopsis for The Perfect Assistant, which aired on Lifetime last Sunday night:
"Rachel (Josie Davis) is the perfect assistant to her boss, Paul (Chris Potter). But in the process of assisting Paul, she's fallen hopelessly in love with him. She's never acted on her feelings because Paul is married to a beautiful woman named Carmen and has a young daughter. But when Carmen contracts encephalitis, an impatient Rachel begins to feel that this is her chance to show Paul that she should be the one he comes home to every night ... Paul welcomes her help, unknowingly fostering a growing obsession in Rachel that will ultimately end in disaster."
Put Elba in the Paul role, add Larter as a crazier, sexier, more dangerous temp, cast a bored, worrisome Beyoncé as Elba's wife, and give them a son instead of a daughter (but hold the encephalitis, please), and you have last weekend's dubious box-office champion.
Questions and concerns about technique or meaning are simply inappropriate for shrink-wrapped convenience-store cinema like this: The film is so staid and styleless in its acting, screenplay, lighting, and story that if you're trying to evaluate it by traditional good-movie criteria like intensity, complexity, or originality, it quickly starts to bore you. Dust off the bad-movie scorecard, though, and the subtle pleasures creep into view.
Take Matthew Humphreys' turn as Elba's gay assistant, Patrick. Humphreys spikes his small, clichéd part with toxic, volatile doses of rage and resentment. He plays Patrick with an expressionless, boiling fury that scalds any actor who crosses his path. He's by far the most compelling presence in the film.
But aside from an unusual bit part, enjoyable bad movies better have something else in store: a wildly inappropriate tone shift, an unexpectedly cerebral line of dialogue slipped in by a sneaky script doctor, perhaps a surreal plot twist that defies conventional genre expectations. Obsessed's improbable plot twist starts looking pretty tasty once Beyoncé leaves a threatening phone message to Larter that ends with the words, "Try me, bitch!" The pulse quickens: Will these girls meet again and fight to the death?
The answer: You bet. The girl-on-girl action at the climax of Obsessed is not bad, as Beyoncé balances on shaky attic support beams in high heels while Larter lunges at her with a two-by-four, flashing her lacy black panties at every tumble. The three-story house where the battle rages grows as tall as the Chrysler Building during their death-defying duel, and as the glass table in the living room waits patiently for one of the combatants to shatter it, well, that's almost entertainment.