A Fatal Attraction without the slow-cooking rabbit - and, strangely, without the adultery - the Steve Shill thriller Obsessed reaches its raison d'être in the final reel, when Beyoncé Knowles' wronged wife stands off against Ali Larter's vixen from hell, and the pop star hisses, "I knew it would come to this." So did we all, Beyoncé. But did it have to come so late?
You gotta (somewhat) respect a movie that understands exactly what an audience wants from it, and during the opening scenes of this cheesy revenge fantasy, Shill and company seem to know just what they're doing. Idris Elba plays a wealthy investment banker who lands Larter as his temporary assistant, but while the temp is friendly and efficient to a fault, it's clear that she's developing an unhealthy interest in her new employer; when Knowles drops in to visit her hubby, it takes her all of five seconds to correctly gauge that this office drone with the perfect posture and charming overbite is bad, bad news. (It's possible that Knowles gleaned this through repeated viewings of Heroes, where Larter used to perform her Jekyll-and-Hyde routine on a weekly basis.) Trading smiles and small talk laced with hostility, Knowles and Larter make for a smashingly statuesque pair of adversaries, and from Obsessed's first minutes, you can feel a giggly rush percolating in the audience that's eager to see this blond and leggy interloper taken down a peg or two. Bring on the bitch-slapping!
Unfortunately, it takes nearly 100 more minutes for the slapping (and punching, and kicking, and rolling around on broken glass) to finally occur, and by then, you may have lost whatever interest you initially had in the trashy proceedings. The fun in Larter's performance evaporates the minute she morphs from sleaze to psycho, and she and Elba wind up playing too many drearily derivative "You love me!"/"You're a loon!" scenes; screenwriter David Loughery's plot contrivances, meanwhile, are more risible than his dialogue - the ease with which Larter snuck into Elba's and Knowles' home (twice!) elicited groans from the crowd - and even the great Bruce McGill and Christine Lahti offer little consolation. Obsessed rallies slightly when Knowles and Larter finally deliver the slug-fest goods, but it's too little, too late. What's the point in the women beating each other up when the movie itself has already done such a thorough job of it?
Director Joe Wright's The Soloist is an inspirational drama in which a seen-it-all journalist (Robert Downey Jr.) befriends a homeless schizophrenic (Jamie Foxx) who was once a classical cellist, and it's a pleasure to report that the film is nowhere near as saccharine and unbearable as its trailers made it appear. True, there's still something a little sickly about its central conceit; must we witness another jaded, white cynic Growing as a Person and Discovering Deeper Values through the aid of another child-like, black savant? But the movie is at least directed with imagination and tact, the homeless citizens of downtown Los Angeles are viewed with a refreshingly unsentimental eye - without it seeming at all exploitive, a goodly amount of screen time is devoted to their stream-of-consciousness rants and haunted faces - and the film's leads prove to be utterly sensational together.
Foxx, trying to keep up with the torrent of thoughts and music in his character's head, delivers complex, hypnotic diatribes with an almost startling fluidity and never begs for the audience's love; this inventive, edgy, deeply felt portrayal stands as the performer's finest work since Ray. And Downey, whose bullshit detector must be keener than any other living actor's, is so alert and funny and honest within the confines of his conceptual role that he emerges as a figure of genuine heroism; if enough young people view his performance in The Soloist, you might soon see a sharp incline in the number of investigative journalists out there. Of course, you might soon see more iron men and psychotically diligent Method actors, too. Downey's just gifted that way.
Not that I'm complaining, but with a title as grandiose as Earth, and subject matter that includes nearly every non-human species of life on the planet, wouldn't you expect Disney's nature documentary to run slightly longer than the 90 minutes it does? At the very least, wouldn't you think it could devote its last two minutes to something more substantial than a greatest-hits montage of the previous 88? No matter. The studio's wa-a-a-ay truncated theatrical version of the stunning BBC miniseries Planet Earth is just fine for the kids: Lots of animals and birds and fish, all gorgeously photographed, and served with cutesy James Earl Jones narration. There's not a lot of context, and even less narrative coherence, but it's all amiable and pleasant, and there's an audience-tickling bit in which an adorable baby bird leaps out of a tree and attempts to fly - "or as I call it," rumbles Mr. Jones, "falling with style." Only Disney could produce an eco-friendly, live-action doc and score its biggest laugh with a Buzz Lightyear quote.