Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, Julianne Moore and Amy Adams

September 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ben Platt and Julianne Moore in “Dear Evan Hansen” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Dear Evan Hansen”

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

Culture Representation: Taking place in Bethesda, Maryland, the musical film “Dear Evan Hansen” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Due to a misunderstanding over a typed letter, a lonely teenager in his last year of high school pretends that he was the secret best friend of a fellow student who committed suicide. 

Culture Audience: “Dear Evan Hansen” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Tony-winning musical on which this movie is based, but the movie fails to capture the spirit of the stage version.

Danny Pino, Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Dever in “Dear Evan Hansen” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

On paper, the movie musical “Dear Evan Hansen” seems like it would be guaranteed to have the same appeal as the Tony-winning musical on which it’s based. However, the movie’s talented cast can’t redeem this misguided mush that clumsily handles serious issues such as mental illness and suicide. Sometimes, it isn’t enough to have members of a Broadway musical’s Tony-winning team reprise the same roles for the movie. The “Dear Evan Hansen” movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Several of the principal team members who won Tony Awards for the “Dear Evan Hansen” stage musical came on board for the movie version of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Ben Platt returns in his starring role as Evan Hansen. Steven Levenson wrote the musical’s book and the movie’s screenplay. Marc Platt (Ben Platt’s father) is a producer. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the musical score and songs. The movie version has most of the same songs from the stage musical, except for the original songs “A Little Closer” and “The Anonymous Ones,” which were both written for the movie.

Stephen Chbosky, who earned rave reviews for writing and directing his 2012 movie adaptation of his novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” misses the mark in directing “Dear Evan Hansen,” another story about a teenage boy who’s struggling with mental illness. (Chobsky was not involved in the “Dear Evan Hansen” stage musical, whose original Broadway production was directed by Michael Greif.) In “Dear Evan Hansen,” Evan Hansen is a socially awkward loner, who is in therapy for anxiety and depression. In the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie, these issues are treated like “disease of the week” plot points. The movie also callously fails, until the last few scenes, to have much regard for the inner life of the person who committed suicide in the story, because the movie is all about Evan Hansen’s angst over keeping secrets about lies that Evan Hansen created.

Unfortunately, the movie missed some opportunities to have more exploration and sensitivity about what led to the suicide that becomes the catalyst for the entire story. Instead, the emphasis is on trying to make viewers feel sorry for a teenager who lies to people about being the suicide victim’s best friend. The movie doesn’t make him an anti-hero but someone who should be admired for coping with his mental health issues while under the stress of concocting elaborate lies.

In the beginning of “Dear Evan Hansen” (which takes place in Bethesda, Maryland), Evan is shown doing a therapy exercise required by his psychiatrist Dr. Sherman: writing a diary-like letter to himself. It’s an assignment that Evan has to do on a regular basis in order to ease some of his anxiety and hopefully boost his confidence. Dr. Sherman is never seen or heard in the movie, which is one of the reasons why parts of this movie look very phony and off-kilter. The self-addressed letter writing becomes the reason why Evan becomes entangled in a misunderstanding and a complicated deception that end up getting out of control.

Evan, who is in his last year at the fictional Westview High School, is the only child of divorcée Heidi Hansen (played by Julianne Moore), a nurse who works the night shift at a local hospital. Evan’s father abandoned Evan and Heidi when Evan was very young and has not been in their lives since then. More recently, Evan has been recovering from a broken left arm, which is in a cast, because he fell out of a tree.

The early scenes of Evan at high school embody a lot stereotypes of teenagers who are social pariahs. He’s ignored in the hallways and in classrooms. No one wants to have lunch with him in the cafeteria. Evan is afraid to talk to people, and when he does, he often stutters and stammers. And people usually don’t talk to him either, because he keeps mostly to himself.

There’s no indication of what type of academic student Evan is because the movie mostly cares about the web of lies that Evan ends up spinning. At home, Evan’s mother Heidi constantly reminds him to write the self-affirming letters, because she doesn’t want him to “go back to how it was last year,” which implies that Evan had some kind of breakdown back then.

As is typical for a story about a male nerd in high school, he has a crush on a girl whom he thinks is out of his league, and he’s too shy to even talk to her. Evan’s crush is Zoe Murphy (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who is two years younger than he is. Zoe, who is artistic and introverted, plays guitar in the school’s marching band.

Evan’s only “friend” at school is someone who often acts embarrassed to be around Evan. His name is Jared Kalvani (played by Nik Dodani), who makes a lot of cruel remarks to Evan, but Jared think he’s being witty and funny when he says these awful things to Evan. For example, Jared tells Evan that they are not “real friends,” because Jared feels obligated to hang out with Evan only because their mothers are friends. Jared also calls Evan a “total disaster” when it comes to dating. Jared tells Evan that he won’t sign Evan’s arm cast because Jared doesn’t want people to think that he and Evan are friends.

It’s the beginning of the school year, and Jared (who is openly gay) brags to Evan that he spent his summer vacation at a camp where he gained muscle weight and hooked up with a Brazilian hunk who’s a model. Jared is a motormouth who seems like the type to exaggerate things about himself in order to boost his own ego. Viewers will get the impression that Jared hangs out with Evan so Jared can feel socially superior to Evan.

One day in the school hallway, Evan has a run-in with a school bully named Connor Murphy (played by Colton Ryan), who is in Evan’s graduating class. Connor also happens to be Zoe’s older brother. Connor sees Evan looking at Connor while Evan gives a small nervous laugh. Connor’s temper explodes and he yells at Evan for laughing at him.

Zoe is among the people who saw this outburst, so shortly afterward, she approaches Evan and says she’s sorry for the way that Connor was so rude to Evan. Zoe introduces herself, but bashful Evan is tongue-tied and almost having a panic attack. Evan stammers something that Zoe can’t understand and then he runs away from her.

One day, Evan is in the school library, where he has printed out another letter to himself. The letter reads: “Dear Evan Hansen: Turns out this wasn’t an amazing day after all. This isn’t going to be an amazing year because why would it be? Oh, I know, because there’s Zoe, who I don’t even know and who doesn’t know me, but maybe if I talk to her, maybe things will be better. Or maybe nothing will be different at all. I wish everything was different. Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? Sincerely, your best and dearest friend. Me.”

Just as he is about to leave the library, Evan runs into Connor again. To Evan’s surprise, Connor is even-tempered and asks to signs Evan’s arm cast. After Connor signs it, he smirks and says, “Now we can pretend to be friends.” However, Connor sees the letter that Evan wrote to himself, Connor reads it, and he has another angry tantrum. Connor is upset about Evan’s letter, which Connor calls a “creepy letter” about Zoe. Connor is so incensed that he takes the letter from Evan.

A few days later, Evan finds out about something tragic that happened the night before: Connor committed suicide. Word quickly spreads throughout the school. Evan is called into the school principal’s office because two people want to talk to Evan: Connor’s mother Cynthia Murphy (played by Amy Adams) and Connor’s stepfather Larry Mora (played by Danny Pino), who helped raise Zoe since she was a 1-year-old and since Connor was 3.

Cynthia and Larry found Evan’s letter among Connor’s possessions and assumed that Connor wrote the letter. Larry and Cynthia are surprised by the letter because they didn’t think Connor had any friends. At first, Evan tries to tell these grieving parents that he didn’t know Connor and he wrote the letter to himself. But when Cynthia and Larry see Connor’s signature on Evan’s arm cast, Cynthia is convinced that Connor and Evan must’ve had a secret friendship.

Cynthia in particular seems desperate to want answers about Connor’s suicide. She’s trying to find anyone who was close to Connor to help her understand things that she didn’t know about Connor. It’s at this point in the story that you have to wonder why Cynthia would think that Connor would write a letter saying that he doesn’t know his own sister Zoe, but the movie wants viewers to think that Cynthia is so overcome with grief that she isn’t thinking logically.

The more Evan tries to explain that he was never Connor’s friend, the more upset Cynthia gets. She thinks that Connor had secret email addresses and fake social media accounts to hide his “friendship” with Evan. Cynthia also asks a lot of leading questions that make it easy for Evan to give answers that she wants to hear. And so, with Evan’s anxiety starting to kick in as he faces these parents who want answers, he makes up a huge lie in this meeting, by saying that he and Connor were secret best friends. (It’s not spoiler information, because it’s in the movie’s trailers.)

The rest of the movie shows how Evan’s lies get more elaborate and how he desperately tries to cover up these lies. First, he tells Jared his secret and convinces computer whiz Jared to create fake email messages to and from Connor, so that Evan can forward these messages to the Murphy family. It makes Jared a willing accomplice to this deceit, but the movie badly handles the consequences that Jared would realistically have to face if the secret is revealed.

Cynthia and Larry want to know more about Connor from Evan. And so, it isn’t long before Evan is invited over to the Murphy home for dinner. During this dinner, Evan finds out that Zoe despised Connor, whom she calls a “bad person.” She has nothing good to say about her dead brother, and it naturally upsets Larry and Cynthia every time they hear Zoe insult Connor.

Later, in a private conversation between Zoe and Evan, she expresses some skepticism that Evan was ever really Connor’s friend. Although she and Connor weren’t close, Zoe finds it hard to believe that Evan and Connor were friends because she never saw them hanging out together. The only time that she saw Evan and Connor interacting with each other was when Connor yelled at Evan in the school hallway. Despite these major doubts, Evan is able to convince Zoe that he and Connor just had a minor argument in that school hallway and that they were really friends.

“Dear Evan Hansen” ignores the larger questions of what kind of emotional support Connor was or was not getting at home. It’s revealed that he was shipped off to rehab on multiple occasions for his substance abuse problems. And it’s obvious that Cynthia doesn’t want to talk about Connor’s worst flaws, so her denial about his problems might have made things worse.

However, viewers are only left to guess what went on inside Connor’s home and what was inside his head to make him commit suicide. To put it bluntly: Evan’s mental health problems are given all the importance in the movie, while the suicide victim’s problems are mostly ignored. This discrepancy defeats the movie’s supposed intention to bring more understanding and compassion for people who have suicidal thoughts.

The movie also goes off on a brief and unnecessary tangent that Jared gleefully participates in Evan’s deception because Jared likes the idea of making people think that Connor and Evan were secret gay lovers. It’s an idea that falls by the wayside when Evan and Zoe become closer and eventually start dating each other. Evan and Zoe becoming romantically involved is not spoiler information either, because it’s shown in the movie’s trailers.

Zoe opens up to Evan about why she and Connor never got along with each other. Connor had a long and troubled history of being a violent bully. For example, when Connor was 7 years old, he threw a printer at a teacher. He was also cruel to Zoe on many occasions. And mental illness apparently runs in the family. Zoe and Connor’s biological father died when she was a 1-year-old. His cause of death will not surprise viewers when it’s eventually revealed in the story.

At school, a concerned student named Alana Beck (played by Amandla Stenberg), who didn’t know Connor, decides to form a support group called the Connor Project to help create student awareness for mental health. She asks for Evan’s help in launching this project, but he avoids going to the student meetings about the project. Alana finds it difficult to get anyone to attend these meetings because Connor was not well-liked, so she’s surprised and disappointed that Connor’s “best friend” doesn’t want to attend these meetings either.

And when Evan tells a lie that Connor was the one who rescued Evan after he fell out of the tree, Alana gets the idea to launch a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to rebuild the defunct orchard where the tree is located. She wants to name it the Connor Murphy Memorial Orchard. Alana tries to enlist Evan’s help for this campaign too. And so, now Evan knows that this fundraising campaign was created as a direct result of his deceit. Can you say “financial fraud”?

Why is Alana going to all this trouble for Connor, someone she didn’t even know? It turns out that Alana has a personal reason for wanting to launch the Connor Project: Just like Evan, she’s on medication for anxiety and depression. Alana thinks that Connor also had a mental illness that could’ve been better treated if he felt that he had a support system at school. And therefore, Alana has a lot of empathy for anyone who is going through these struggles.

One of the reasons why the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie will turn off some viewers is that the movie tries to make Evan look sympathetic because he’s a social outcast, but he actually comes across as very selfish. Would he have continued lying to the Murphy family if he didn’t think it was a convenient way to get closer to Zoe? Probably not. Would he have kept up the charade of being sympathetic to Connor’s emotional problems if this fake sympathy hadn’t raised his social status at school? Probably not.

Evan also doesn’t seem to care to understand who Connor was as a human being until something happens in the story that forces Evan to look like he’s curious about what Connor’s interests were when Connor was alive. Throughout most of the movie, Alana is more inquisitive about Connor than Evan is. Of course, in real life, this discrepancy would have set off red flags very early on—not just with Connor’s family but also with teachers and students who would know best what the friendship cliques are at the school. It’s a reality that’s mostly ignored in this movie, which makes the students and teachers look extremely gullible to Evan’s lies, which aren’t even that clever.

And there’s an icky subtext that Evan is enjoying the attention and approval he’s getting for coming forward as Connor’s “best friend,” even though Evan is supposed to feel guilty about his lies. He does feel guilty, but mainly when he comes close to getting caught and other people get backlash that Evan didn’t expect. This backlash is rushed into the story as a way to force an inevitable plot development.

It’s possible that this movie could’ve been more convincing if it had been set in a time before the Internet and social media existed. However, no one ever asks Evan for more proof that he knew Connor as a best friend, such as things Connor would’ve told a best friend about himself. Everyone just accepts the superficial and vague email as “evidence” of the friendship.

Evan claims that his friendship with Connor was mostly online, by email. However, except for saying that Evan rescued him after the tree fall, Evan never provides the dates and times of when he and Evan supposedly hung out in person together. Viewers are supposed to believe that Evan thinks he can get away with this scam with his mother, who knows pretty much everything about him and is skeptical that he had a secret best friend. But somehow, Evan convinces her too. It’s a very flimsy part of the story.

The cast members capably handle the acting and song performances. However, the way the songs are placed in the movie don’t come off as well on screen as they would on stage. There’s a very cringeworthy fantasy sequence where Evan and Connor frolic, dance and sing in a carefree manner together, as if they were best friends. Ben Platt vacillates between portraying Evan as a pitiful wimp and a troubled opportunist. Dever does quite well in her scenes as Zoe, especially when she depicts Zoe’s conflicting love/hate emotions about Connor.

The songs from the stage musical that are in the movie are “Waving Through a Window,” “Good for You,” “Anybody Have a Map?,” “For Forever,” “Sincerely, Me,” “Requiem,” “If I Could Tell Her,” “Only Us.” “Words Fail,” “So Big, So Small” and the musical’s most well-known anthem “You Will Be Found.” The original songs “A Little Closer” (performed by Ryan) and “The Anonymous Ones” (performed by Stenberg, who co-wrote the music and lyrics) are serviceable but aren’t that outstanding. In addition, the soundtrack has Sam Smith doing a version of “You Will Be Found” and SZA performing “The Anonymous Ones.”

Mostly, the overall cloying tone of the movie is off-putting because it tries so hard to get viewers to root for Evan while he’s doing a lot of despicable lying about someone who committed suicide. Just because Evan has anxiety and depression shouldn’t be used as an excuse, which is what this movie does in a way that’s insulting to people with these mental health issues who would never stoop to the pathetic levels of what Evan does in this movie.

And it’s made even worse when it’s wrapped up in bombastic musical numbers that are intended to make people shed tears for Evan more than anyone else in the story—even though he’s not the one who lost a loved one to suicide and he’s causing more pain with his lies. This gross spectacle of a movie amplifies the deep-rooted flaws of the entire story, which might have been more acceptable to theater audiences who are more accustomed to seeing song-and-dance numbers about suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues. “Dear Evan Hansen” has a lot of deluded worship of Evan, who’s got a bland abyss of a personality and who isn’t even creative with his lies.

Universal Pictures will release “Dear Evan Hansen” in U.S. cinemas on September 24, 2021.

Review: ‘Fatale,’ starring Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy

December 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy in “Fatale” (Photo by Scott Everett White/Lionsgate)

“Fatale”

Directed by Deon Taylor 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and briefly in Las Vegas, the dramatic thriller “Fatale” features a racially diverse cast (African Americans and white people, with some Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a married man has a one-night stand with a woman he met at a nightclub in Las Vegas, he’s shocked to find out that the woman is a police officer who now wants to make his life hell.

Culture Audience: “Fatale” will appeal primarily to people who like watching cheap, inferior ripoffs of “Fatal Attraction.”

Hilary Swank and Damaris Lewis in “Fatale” (Photo by Scott Everett White/Lionsgate)

If Tyler Perry wanted to make his own version of 1987’s “Fatal Attraction,” it would look a lot like “Fatale.” Here’s the checklist, just so you know. Is there a married couple having relationship problems in the movie? Check. Did the husband cheat on the wife? Check. Is there a completely ludicrous plot twist in the story? Check.

Deon Taylor actually directed “Fatale,” whose uninspired screenplay was written by David Loughery. And even though “Fatale” has an Oscar winner (Hilary Swank) in its cast, it still doesn’t give any class to this completely tacky thriller. (Taylor and Swank are two of the producers of “Fatale.”) Everything about “Fatale” looks like it was made for a TV network or streaming service instead of for cinemas, where people have to pay money to see this substandard schlock that is “Fatale” in its initial release.

“Fatale” uses the same template of “Fatal Attraction,” except that it adds an element that could have been very intriguing: The psycho mistress is a cop. However, “Fatale” bungles that aspect of the story by having the cop do a lot of things that she would be very unlikely to get away with so easily in real life.

The movie starts out by showing sports agent Derrick Taylor (played by Michael Ealy) driving in his car somewhere in Los Angeles, where he lives. Derrick says in a cringeworthy voiceover narration: “I was always the smart one, the one who played to win. I was damn good at it and was the best. Then I took my eye off of the ball. And just like that, the rules of the game changed. I was no longer playing to win. This was a new game. I’m playing for my life now.”

Translation: “I went to Vegas, cheated on my wife, and now the psycho I slept with won’t leave me alone and might kill me.”

Before viewers get to that predictable point in the story, it’s shown that Derrick and his wife Traci (played by Damaris Lewis) are stuck in a marital rut. Derrick (who’s in his 40s) and Traci (who’s about 15 years younger than Derrick) do not have children, and the spouses have both been working long hours and haven’t been spending a lot of time together. When they do spend time together, Derrick and Traci don’t seem to like each other very much. The romantic passion they once had is in danger of leaving their marriage permanently.

Derrick has a successful sports agency called Vista Entertainment, which he co-founded with his best friend Rafe Grimes (played by Mike Colter), who is thinking about cashing out to become an instant multimillionaire. It’s revealed later in the story that talent agency giant William Morris Endeavor (WME) has been eyeing Vista for a corporate buyout. Rafe thinks that he and Derrick should take the offer if it comes. Derrick doesn’t want to sell the company, and it’s in Derrick and Rafe’s contract with each other that Vista won’t be sold unless they both agree to it.

Rafe is an extroverted bachelor who is dating a woman named Micaela (played by Kali Hawk), and the relationship seems to be going well. While Rafe and Micaela are visiting Derrick and Traci in their home, the two couples have drinks together and make small talk that’s pleasant but superficial. However, Traci is noticeably cold to Derrick.

One day, Derrick and Traci have a tense conversation because she stayed out past midnight the night before, without telling him where she was. During this discussion, Traci says that she was celebrating with some clients and didn’t want to be rude by going home early. Derrick accepts that excuse, but he expresses concern over how much her career seems to be taking time away from their relationship. Traci accuses Derrick of having a double standard because his job is also demanding, but she doesn’t complain about it as much as he complains about the time she spends on her job.

By the time Derrick and Rafe travel to Las Vegas for a bachelor party of a mutual friend, Derrick and Traci’s relationship has reached a stalemate. At the nightclub where the party is held, Derrick confides in Rafe by telling him that he and Traci used to have a “perfect marriage,” but now they feel like “strangers” to each other. Rafe’s response is to tell Derrick to take off his wedding ring and pretend “for the next 24 hours, you’re a single man.”

It doesn’t take long for Derrick to act on that advice. At the nightclub, he spots a woman (played by Swank), who’s around his age and who seems to be having a good time on the dance floor. When she sits down at the bar by herself, Derrick notices the woman rebuff the advances of a man who somewhat aggressively approaches her.

Derrick decides he’ll strike up a conversation with her and see what happens. He leans in close, in a way that makes it obvious that he finds her attractive. The woman, who introduces herself as Val, comments about the man she rejected: “It’s Vegas. It brings out the predators.” Derrick replies, “And the clowns.”

Derrick and Val have some drinks together. At one point, he accidentally spills his drink on Val because someone standing next to Derrick accidentally bumped into him. Derrick makes a sheepish apology. And when he grabs a napkin to give to Val, she suggestively tells him that he can wipe off the drink himself since he made the mess. It’s an excuse for Derrick to gently rub Val near her cleavage area. Judging by the smirk on her face, she enjoys it.

Derrick tells Val that he’s at the nightclub for a bachelor party, but he lies by telling Val that his name is Darren Johnson and that he’s visiting from Seattle. Val says that she’s in Vegas by herself because she has a high-stress job and she goes to Vegas to relieve the stress. “I let myself go insane,” she tells Derrick. “I highly recommend it.”

Val asks Derrick to dance, and they start dancing suggestively on the dance floor. One thing leads to another. They kiss passionately and end up having sex in Val’s hotel room. The next morning is the first sign that something is “off” with Val. While Derrick gets dressed and is ready to leave, he notices that he can’t find his phone. Val tells Derrick that she locked his phone in the room’s safe.

Derrick asks Val to give him his phone because he doesn’t want to miss his plane flight at the airport. Val refuses to give him the combination to the safe until he has sex with her again. “What? You want me to fuck it out of you?” Derrick says to Val about the safe’s combination, as he decides to give her what she wants.

Back in Los Angeles, Derrick thinks that Val is just a one-night stand he’ll never see again. The fling seems to have boosted his sexual confidence, because now he’s acting like a romantic and attentive husband to Traci. She comes home one evening and is surprised to find out that Derrick has made dinner for her. The passion in their marriage is rekindled and things seem to be getting back on track for Derrick and Traci.

But there would be no “Fatale” movie if it had a happy ending right there. One night, while Derrick and Traci are in the middle of having sex in their bedroom, they hear noises inside their house. It’s a masked man who’s an intruder with a gun. When Derrick goes to investigate the noise, a scuffle breaks out between the intruder and Derrick that causes Derrick to be slightly injured. And the intruder escapes without taking anything.

Derrick and Traci call 911. And guess who’s the police detective who shows up at the house to interview the couple and lead the investigation into the crime? It’s Detective Valerie Quinlan, also known as Val, the same woman who had the fling with Derrick in Las Vegas. Derrick and Val are shocked to see each other, but they play it cool and act as if they’ve met for the first time.

However, Val messes with Derrick a little bit when she asks him in front of Traci: “Do I know you?” Traci tells Val that Val probably recognizes Derrick from seeing him on TV. Traci explains that Derrick used to be a college basketball star. He’s also been interviewed on TV because of his work as a sports agent. Val pretends to accept the explanation, but gives Derrick a knowing look, as if to say, “Don’t mess with me or I’ll tell our secret to your wife.”

Because of this investigation, Val finds out that Derrick not only lied to her about his name and the city where he lives, but he also lied about being married. During their tryst in Las Vegas, Val showed signs of being unreasonable and controlling. And now that she found out that Derrick lied to her, she doesn’t take it lightly. She’s going to get revenge.

The rest of “Fatale” is basically what you might expect from a movie that borrows heavily from “Fatal Attraction,” with a mentally unbalanced scorned woman acting out in twisted ways to get revenge on the man she feels did her wrong. It’s shown that Val has a very troubled past as an alcoholic who lost custody of her daughter Haley (played by Oakley Bull), who is now 7 or 8 years old.

A flashback reveals that the incident that caused Val to lose custody of Haley happened about three years ago, when Val was passed out drunk and left her daughter in the room with a loaded gun that had its safety off. Haley picked up the gun and fired it. Luckily, no one was hurt, but Val’s ex-husband Carter Haywood (played by Danny Pino) was upset enough to ask for and get full custody of Haley. Val doesn’t even have visitation rights to Haley.

Carter is now married to another woman (played by Lexa Gluck), and he has a restraining order against Val. You can imagine what Val did to get that restraining order against her. At one point in the story, Val says that she’s been sober for the last three years, with the implication being that the gun incident with Haley motivated Val to get sober. However, when it comes to Val, sobriety doesn’t equal sanity.

Carter is no angel either. In the beginning of the movie, a TV news report shows that he’s a politician in Los Angeles who’s been accused of siphoning funds from the South Central Urban Renewal Project. Let’s see: There’s a possibly corrupt politician who’s got a vengeful ex-wife who’s become more unhinged now that she feels humiliated by a one-night stand who wants nothing to do with her. What could possibly go wrong?

There’s another character who plays a role in the messy drama that ends up happening as the story unfolds. Tyrin Abernathy (played by Tyrin Turner) is Derrick’s cousin who has a shady past. Derrick has been like a mentor to Tyrin. It’s implied that Tyrin has been in trouble with the law, but Derrick has helped Tyrin clean up his act. Tyrin helps Derrick by doing errands for him and looking out for Derrick’s widowed mother Valeria (played by Denise Dowse), who has a close relationship with Derrick.

However, Rafe doesn’t completely trust Tyrin and doesn’t like it when Tyrin comes to the Vista office to visit Derrick. Apparently, Tyrin is too “ghetto” for Rafe, who thinks that Tyrin hanging out at the office isn’t good for the upscale company image that Rafe wants to project. Derrick thinks that Rafe is judging Tyrin too harshly.

“Fatale” piles on some plot twists, some of which are more believable than others. What’s unintentionally hilarious about the movie is that every time something bad happens to Derrick, Val seems to be the only cop in the big city of Los Angeles who just happens to be called to the scene and who investigates. She’s not a high-ranking officer, so in the real world, she wouldn’t have the clout to be involved with so many separate incidents that involve Derrick. And if she did have the clout, it would raise suspicions with her colleagues why she keeps showing up in Derrick’s life on “police business.”

There are double-crosses and other betrayals that become increasingly ridiculous and play out like a very cheesy soap opera. As far as villains go, Swank’s portrayal of Val isn’t terrible, but it’s very generic. Ealy and most of the rest of the cast turn in very mediocre performances, except for Lewis who is downright awful with her wooden acting.

Taylor’s direction of “Fatale” is pedestrian and looks every bit like the low-budget tawdry thriller that it is. (Taylor and Ealy previously worked together on the 2019’s “The Intruder,” a second-rate and predictable thriller in which Ealy plays a married man stalked by a vengeful psycho, played by Dennis Quaid, because of jealousy over home ownership.) “Fatale” really is not much different from a basic cable TV-movie covering the same subject matter, except that “Fatale” has fouler language and sex scenes that are more suggestive than what’s on basic cable. Just like low-quality counterfeit merchandise that ends up falling apart, “Fatale” is a flimsy and forgettable rehash of the formula that made “Fatal Attraction” a classic.

Lionsgate released “Fatale” in U.S. cinemas on December 18, 2020. The movie’s VOD release date is January 8, 2021.

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