In the 80s and 90s Michael Douglas was the go-to guy to play men harassed, used, abused and manipulated by women, as seen in the White-Men-Under-Attack trilogy of Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and Disclosure. After his screen avatar’s bad luck was purged by David Fincher in The Game his screen appearances have become sporadic. The next generation demands a new macho hero who can be hunted by the kinds of obsessive, dangerous women that only exist in movies. In Obsessed, the man attempting — and failing — to fill Douglas’ shoes is Idris Elba, who plays executive Derek Charles with a relentless and tiring intensity the movie doesn’t warrant. Happily married to his former assistant Sharon (Beyoncé Knowles), Charles is stalked at work by a temp assistant, Lisa (Ali Larter). At first she merely seems infatuated with Elba, but after he rebuffs a couple of aggressive approaches she becomes crazed, interpreting his rebuffs as evidence of his love for her, prompting her to insinuate herself into his life a la Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Jessica Walters in Play Misty For Me.
Those movies showed the male protagonist’s culpability, with the message being “Mess around, and you will suffer for it.” Here writer David Loughery and director Steve Shill seem to be saying “Guys, there are some crazy women out there, and they’ll fuck up your life for no reason.” This doesn’t even pass muster as a morality play. It’s just another movie stating that there is no such thing as the Other any more. No matter how well you live your life, people are going to hunt you down, drug you with Rohypnol, rub up against you while you are in a fugue state, and listlessly kidnap your child, though “relocate” seems to be a more accurate description for what she does, as the nefarious Lisa merely moves Derek and Sharon’s son from his crib to their car.
The worst that happens to Derek is that he is accused of having an affair. The evidence for this is entirely provided by Lisa, and yet despite the flimsy nature of it (for example, listing him as an emergency contact number, or writing about the imaginary affair in a diary), at least two women automatically believe he is in the wrong. In one of the stupider scenes of the year, a police detective (Christine Lahti) investigating a suicide attempt by Lisa interrogates Derek in the crowded waiting room of a hospital with Sharon sitting next to him. As the scene descends into incomprehensible histrionic chaos, we see Elba desperately trying to prove his innocence while both women irrationally dismiss his pleas. The movie seems to be saying that it just doesn’t pay to be honourable, because women will always distrust their man.
It’s tempting to think Obsessed is intentionally trying to trade in the most witless and offensive gender stereotypes possible, as some kind of poorly signposted satire on gender politics. The male characters (including Jerry O’Connell and Bruce McGill) are either flamboyant homosexuals mincing around the office or leering sexist pigs whose idea of small talk is to discuss how sexy women love to extort money from them with their feminine wiles. Still, at least gender politics are addressed, albeit ineptly. The potentially inflammatory racial implications of having the only black characters in the film threatened by a predatory and insane white woman are ignored altogether. Apparently, this was to avoid repeating the themes of Loughery’s previous movie Lakeview Terrace, which featured a racist black cop menacing a white family.
It quickly becomes clear the filmmakers are only interested in cranking out the least provocative thriller possible. With a blameless hero victimised by a villain who has no recognisable human qualities, even the dependable nightmare scenario of being framed and losing everything is diluted by the vast amount of contrivance needed to place our hero in jeopardy. We’re merely expected to wait — unmoved and unoffended by the mild PG-13 thrills — for the villain to get her comeuppance, which comes in a protracted and absurd finale, when Sharon returns home to find Lisa in bed. The poorly choreographed catfight that follows is violent but bloodless, and finally provides Knowles with something to do other than chide Elba. After mouthing some unconvincing threats and killing Larter, Knowles is comforted by her husband, and the last shot is of her, not the man who has been onscreen for most of the film. I’m not the only person confused by this shift in focus. Did Knowles — who co-produced the movie with her father Mathew – sign on just so she could film a long fight scene? Why would that appeal to her? Did she hate the third season of Heroes even more than I did? This mystery is the only aspect of the movie that invites further reflection.
Obsessed is as dreary and toothless a thriller as you’re ever going to see. Unimaginatively plotted by Loughery — the man who wrote Star Trek V: The Final Frontier — the viewer waits for anything shocking or interesting to happen and gets little more than some one-note shouting from Elba and some lazy misogyny. All that’s left for the viewers to occupy themselves is mockery of the risible dialogue (“I’ll take up that slack. That is one smoking hot piece of ass!”) and direction. TV director Shill has worked on almost every notable show of the past ten years, including The Wire and Deadwood. However, he started out with EastEnders, Emmerdale, and The Bill, and it is these uncinematic melodramas that provide the closest link to his work here. Overlit, poorly blocked, and littered with even more establishing shots than in Tommy Wiseau’s notorious bad movie classic The Room, Shill fails to transform Loughery’s script into even a passable movie. Apparently the working title for Obsessed was Oh No She Didn’t. It’s a pity they went with the straight-to-DVD-esque title it now has. If they’d retained the original title, at least the laughs elicited by this dismal failure might have seemed intentional.