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Richard and Priscilla Parker's lives take a turn for the better when Eddy and Kay move into the house next door. Eddy's a risk taker and shows his new neighbours how to enjoy life at the expense of a rule or convention or two. What Richard doesn't realise is that Eddy's little games are just a prelude to something that's intended to destroy his neighbours' lives. Written by
[whispering in the dark]
Did you know that I can see things, Priscilla. I can see things nobody can. I'm so good at predicting, that I can read tomorrow's headline. A man last night broke into the home of his ex-wife, and killed for the third and last time. Arriving tragically too late, Eddy Otis, the woman's... the dead woman's friend, shot and killed him. The man, Richard Parker, was already wanted in connection with several other murders. Oh yes, he's here. Priscilla, he's in the house right ...
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"Consenting Adults" simply proves what a Hollywood screenwriter can do when given a big budget, big stars and no imagination. Kevin Kline and Kevin Spacey play suburban neighbors who become unlikely friends then slowly descend into episodes of criminal mischief and debauchery.
The picture starts off well enough. We're introduced to Kline and his wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and their musically gifted daughter. He's a composer of commercial jingles who appears to be placid and content in his boring, upper-middle-class ways. Then Spacey and his stunning wife (Rebecca Miller) move in next door, and Kline's character is suddenly awakened: Spacey is a real schmoozer, a "financial adviser" with a sharp mind and an engaging personality; Miss Miller is a bombshell, and one can sense that Kline wants a piece of her. The tension and complications build until Spacey suggests to Kline a one-night stand of wipe-swapping, each man accosting the other's wife, half-asleep in bed, so they are unaware of the identity of the lover (in theory, anyway). Kline refuses, but Spacey and the idea keep gnawing at him, and eventually, craving a scrap of excitement in his dull life, he gives in. The final consummation between Kline and Miller is a lovely shot; his bare body caught in shadows in front of a glittering window-dressing, partially lit by street lamps. Unfortunately, that's where the movie ends.
A few hours later, Miss Miller turns up dead, bashed with a baseball bat, and Kline, having had sex with her is cast as the murderer. From this point, nothing in the story appears to make much sense; its as though the screenplay was flowcharted by a computer programmer. This happens, then this, then this. Human emotions are never considered, and the movie becomes an acted-out cartoon, each actor assuming a caricature of something that fits a framework; any chance for texture in the performances is completely destroyed.
The plot is full of holes, and sometimes, in a truly suspenseful picture, the audience is willing to overlook it. Not this time. It's all so by-the-numbers, you can virtually guess what will happen next even though you don't understand why. If the dead girl wasn't Spacey's wife, then who was she? Why didn't Kline recognize her as a different girl when he rushed into the bedroom? (Do all vapid blondes look that much alike?) Why does Mastantonio immediately discount her husband's plea of innocence? (so much for 14 years of marriage) If she's so much happier with Spacey, why does she agree to play the tape? I considered that she might toss it in the lake they were standing by, but I knew she wouldn't. Then the computer program wouldn't run.
There's not much to like about the performances in this thing. Kevin Kline, it's been my long-held opinion, is only good when he's acting up a storm. When he plays a regular person, he's just boring, he radiates very little presence to the audience. He's not a convincing Everyman, as Jimmy Stewart was, he's just dismal and you don't really care whether he clears his name or not. The boringness is not so evident in the first part of the film (in fact, it fits), but once his life is on the line and he has reach to down deep for some reserve of passion, it isn't there. He's not compelling enough to be The Man Caught in the Web (he'd be lost in a Hitchcock picture). Kevin Spacey is superb in the early scenes as the sleazo Eddie, and he gives the picture its only zing; he has the right admixture of charm and smarm to draw you in and make you wary at the same time. But by the end, he's just another psychotic killer and his eyes gleam freakishly like Nicholson's in "The Shining". If there's such a thing as a cardboard cutout of a deviant, this is it. Audiences may like Forest Whitaker's subdued performance as a polite southern gentleman sniffing out the scam (he's like the Lovie Smith of insurance investigators), but it belongs in another movie.
A good movie could have been made from this material. From the crucial point of the wipe swap, it could have been a character study on how lives are destroyed by this kind of self-indulgent behavior, or at least a better thriller, with Spacey leading Kline into deeper and more diabolical adventures. But "Consenting Adults" is straight from the textbook, and a cursory-level high school textbook at that.
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