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At about the 50-minute mark into “Killing me Softly,” a character chides our heroine, Alice (Heather Graham) with this insightful line: “Jesus, Alice, I can’t believe you did that!” This, unfortunately, was the same thing I (and probably anyone watching that possesses a tiny shred of common sense) was thinking throughout much of “Killing me Softly,” a new erotic thriller from veteran Chinese director Kaige Chen.
Ever wonder how a movie that boasts Heather Graham (“Boogie Nights”) and Joseph Fiennes (“Enemy at the Gates”), plus the international directorial debut of Kaige Chen (“Farewell My Concubine”), can disappear into the abyss without even a single marquee poster being put up in the States? One word: Embarrassment. As in the reason why the film was never released theatrically in the States and will probably only see the spotlight in Asia and other places where having the comely Heather Graham show her breasts and engaging in passionate simulated sex is a major draw.
And oh my does Heather Graham, as an American in England who falls for a dangerous man with smoldering good looks (Fiennes), show plenty of sex appeal. In fact, that’s probably the only reason to even give this film a glance. (That is, if one were into that kind of thing, natch). Even Fiennes has seen (much) better times. He’s a hero mountaineer (he saved some people) who likes his sex rough, his girlfriends submissive, and a little S&M with his remote cabin sex. Oh, and he’s very close to his attractive sister.
Anyone smell trouble yet? The red herrings are obvious, the real culprit mind as well wear a sign, and the film is mercifully short at just over 90 minutes. Ninety minutes is, for those who don’t know, the perfect running length for a daily appearance on American cable, which is probably the only place anyone in the States will ever catch this stinker.
As our movie opens, Alice is so overcome with passion for Adam after he glances at her in the street that she dumps her stable (but boring) boyfriend for the dangerous Adam. Why is Adam considered dangerous and thus one of those “bad boys” women adores so much? For one, Adam doesn’t ask, he just takes what he wants. And oh boy does he take our Alice — in every conceivable position!
Despite the generous amount of skin being flashed by both Graham and Fiennes (and both are in very good shape), the film makes a rather half-hearted attempt to convince us of its storyline. I suppose being of the wrong gender I’m not supposed to understand why Alice is so caught up with stranger Adam that she would ditch work in order to wander the streets in search of him. And I suppose I possess the wrong chromosomes that I don’t understand why Graham’s Alice acts all goofy, smiles like an idiot, and shuffles her feet throughout the entire movie as if she has, as the kids like to say, “ants in her pants.”
Besides an embarrassing performance by Graham, the other half of the sex appeal factor, Fiennes, doesn’t exactly light up the screen. As if he was directed constantly by the script and director Chen to “act like a bad boy” throughout the film, Fiennes, well, acts like a bad boy throughout the film. There is barely a short interlude where he isn’t “bad,” or stalking around like a serial killer in waiting. Which means he constantly seizes Alice by the throat and jaw, tears at her clothes when he’s in the mood, and smolders her with his body whenever he meets her. Wait a minute. Don’t women complain about men smothering them? According to “Killing me Softly” as long as you treat women like whores you have nothing to worry about!
The only reason I can come up with why such a respected director like Kaige Chen would even consider “Softly” is because of the lure of making a film outside his normal venue (which in this case is China). He couldn’t have picked a worst project. There is nothing original about this erotic thriller, and Chen shows no directorial skill whatsoever. It is a bad movie for all concern.
For those who don’t know, erotic thrillers can be said to be the savior of late-night cable. You know them, you’ve seen them, and you probably even enjoy them. “Killing me Softly” is nothing more than a direct-to-cable erotic thriller; only it has a bigger budget and bigger stars, but still has the same lousy and predictable story and terrible acting.
On the bright side, at least they chose the right actors. Heather Graham is, indeed, quite comely.
Kaige Chen (director) / Sean French (novel), Kara Lindstrom (screenplay)
CAST: Heather Graham …. Alice Loudon
Joseph Fiennes …. Adam Tallis
Natascha McElhone …. Deborah Tallis
Helen Grace …. Lucy