Mill Creek Entertainment // 1992 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 8th, 2011
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.
Though the films of director Alan J. Pakula would occasionally garner massive amounts of critical acclaim (I'm primarily thinking of All the President's Men and Sophie's Choice), Pakula was generally regarded as a solid craftsman capable of churning out respectable entertainments for grown-ups (Presumed Innocent, Klute, The Pelican Brief). The back of the Blu-ray case for Pakula's Consenting Adults describes the director as a, "master of suspense," but after watching the film I couldn't help but feel that it was a pale imitation of that other "master of suspense." Still, it's absorbing and intelligent enough to merit a look.
Our story concerns a man named Richard Parker (Kevin Kline, De-Lovely), who spends his days writing jingles for commercials. It's clear that Richard is less than satisfied with his profession, and his marriage to Priscilla (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Limbo) has suffered a bit as a result. One day, a new couple moves in next door: the adventurous Eddy Otis (Kevin Spacey, L.A. Confidential) and his beautiful wife Kay (Rebecca Miller, who would later go on to become a well-regarded writer/director). Eddy's wild energy proves surprisingly infectious, and the Parkers find their lives becoming considerably more enjoyable as a result of his presence. However, Richard is secretly a bit uncomfortable with Eddy's risk-taking.
Things get particularly tense when Eddy approaches Richard with an offer: what if they engaged in some wife-swapping for the evening? Each man would slip into the other's room late at night and engage in some half-awake lovemaking with the other's spouse. "Wouldn't they know it was someone else?" Richard says skeptically. "Sure, but would they care?" Eddy replies. Richard initially rejects the idea, but eventually temptation gets the best of him. Unfortunately, this decision leads to a diabolical tangled web of...well, that would be telling.
The tricky thing about reviewing Consenting Adults is that it's almost impossible to discuss the second and third acts of the film without spoiling the movie's biggest surprise. So, permit me to put this as delicately as possible: the first portion of the film is a slippery suburban drama, and the remainder of the film is a Hitchcockian crime thriller (I would tell you which Hitchcock film Consenting Adults mimics specifically, but that would be giving too much away).
Pakula fares very well indeed during the first portion of the film and quite well during much of the second. Unfortunately, what begins as a tense, involving, tightly-wound thriller eventually devolves into silliness during the final twenty minutes or so. Seemingly intelligent characters suddenly begin acting very foolishly; following routine movie clichés to their inevitable conclusion rather than actually thinking for themselves. What was a battle of wits sadly crumbles into a much more ordinary sort of battle, as two of the main characters wrestle with each other and smash things during the final reel.
There's a part of me that wants to recommend the film, because it's good stuff for the majority of its running time. Kline is solid as the troubled central figure of this sordid tale, Mastrantonio brings some interesting shades to her performance and Kevin Spacey has a blast as the sleazy, scheming Eddy. Pakula's direction is compelling enough to cover up some pretty big plot holes (after you watch the film, take a moment to really think about how stupid one of the characters acts during the movie's love scene), and the screenplay offers a story which remains brisk and relaxed simultaneously. There's also a fun turn from Forest Whitaker, playing a southern detective with a deliciously loopy accent. Despite these virtues, the film's unimaginative ending is likely to leave most viewers with a sour aftertaste (that hokey closing shot doesn't help matters, either).
As for this Blu-ray release: meh. This is a bare-bones, low-budget release from Mill Creek created for the sole purpose of delivering the movie in hi-def at minimal expense. The 1080p/1.78:1 (it was originally shot in 1.85:1, so any cropping that has been done is relatively minor) transfer is pretty mediocre; rather lacking in detail and suffering considerably during the darker moments. It's not a bad-looking transfer, but it's only occasionally good enough to remind viewers that they're not watching a DVD. Sound is also so-so, as the lossless 2.0 track gets the job done without much fuss. Dialogue is clean enough, sound design is fair and Michael Small's score is unobtrusively woven into the mix (though it's a shade muffled at times). There are no extras whatsoever (the only options on the disc menu are "play" and "chapters").
Guilty, but don't let that stop you from giving the film a look if you're
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R