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MOVIE REVIEW : Fiorentino’s ‘Seduction’: An Icy Chill of a Heart

TIMES FILM CRITIC

“She can’t be all bad, no one is,” is the best anyone can manage about Jane Greer’s malevolent Kathie Moffett in the classic film noir “Out of the Past,” but Robert Mitchum’s Jeff Bailey isn’t buying. “She comes the closest,” is his curt reply, but then he never met Bridget Gregory.

As played with career-making gusto by Linda Fiorentino, Bridget Gregory is a virtuoso of venom. Nasty, brutish and short to all concerned, her cold amorality leaves bystanders gasping. “You’re not human,” is a typical response, and even her lawyer has to ask, “Anybody check you for a heartbeat?”

Fiorentino’s diabolical performance is the delectable heart of “The Last Seduction,” the latest film by the polished John Dahl, whose “Red Rock West” was this year’s most unexpected (and well-deserved) independent film hit.

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Both “Seduction” and “Red Rock” had to overcome the hurdle of prior showings on HBO before getting theatrical distribution, and although “Red Rock” is the more satisfying film, “Seduction” is pure Dahl and that is reason enough to pay attention.

With only three features to his credit (the first was the Val Kilmer/Joanne Whalley-Kilmer-starring “Kill Me Again”), Dahl has made a reputation for himself as a modern master of a much imitated and overworked genre, the dark-end-of-the-street film noir.

While most directors approach noir from the outside, taking a paint-by-numbers approach to its components, Dahl intuitively penetrates to the heart of the beast, luxuriating in its fatalism, duplicity and despair, not to mention its baroque plot lines. And he also understands that laughter and shivers can be bedfellows, that being true to the spirit doesn’t preclude having a little fun on the side.

Gregory, on the other hand, is all business. “The Last Seduction” opens with a glimpse of her at work, so pitilessly castigating the telephone solicitors under her charge that the word “eunuchs” is as mild as it gets.

Meanwhile, her unsavory doctor husband Clay (Bill Pullman) is out setting up a drug deal, making what he thinks is the score of a lifetime for both of them by selling a large quantity of pharmaceutical cocaine. Bridget, however, has other ideas.

Coolly absconding with the cash and headed as far out of town as she can get, Bridget stops for gas in the Upstate New York hamlet of Beston. With some time to kill, she wanders into the local bar and there, all unknowing, sits Mike Swale (Peter Berg).

A Beston native just returned after an unhappy stint living in nearby Buffalo, Mike is looking for someone or something to give him the nerve to leave town again. Bridget’s abrasiveness fascinates him, and the more abusive she gets, for instance advising him to “make nice little cow babies and leave me alone,” the more pleased he becomes.

Although Beston’s friendliness makes Bridget want to throw up, circumstances force her to stick around for a while, making such cold-bloodedly carnal use of Mike he feels “like a 4-H experiment.” Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, Clay is plotting revenge, and Bridget is coming up with a few new wrinkles of her own.

In part a tribute to “Double Indemnity” (an insurance company figures prominently, and Bridget at one point calls herself Mrs. Neff), “Seduction” is the first Dahl film the director himself didn’t co-write.

First-time screenwriter Steve Barancik definitely works in the Dahl spirit, maybe too much so. Even “Last Seduction’s” admirers will have to admit that the film’s ornate plot goes more seriously haywire than usual, dispensing with plausibility early on and never bothering to look back.

Helping to counteract the plot’s dizziness is Dahl’s feel for the genre and his skill in making scenes that sound like cliches, for instance passionate sex on a rainy night to a muted jazz score, play like they’re supposed to. Dahl also works well with actors, and in addition to Fiorentino he has fine support from the devious Pullman and Berg’s perfect dupe.

With its brisk audacity and the deliriousness of its plotting, “The Last Seduction” must have tickled its director as much as it pleases audiences. Like its amoral protagonist, this little item likes to play with people’s minds and has the panache to pull it off.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong sexuality and language, and for violence. Times guidelines: It includes scenes of energetic lovemaking, mayhem and a general air of amorality.

‘The Last Seduction’

Linda Fiorentino: Bridget Gregory Peter Berg: Mike Swale J.T. Walsh: Frank Griffith Bill Nunn: Harlan Bill Pullman: Clay Gregory An ITC Entertainment Group presentation, released by October Films. Director John Dahl. Producer Jonathan Shestack. Screenplay Steve Barancik. Cinematographer Jeffrey Jur. Editor Eric L. Beason. Costumes Terry Dresbach. Music Joseph Vitarelli. Production design Linda Pearl. Art director Dina Lipton. Set decorator Katherine Lucas. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

In limited release in Southern California.


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