Judge Daryl Loomis is mad at himself for already blowing his "safe word" joke.
Love. Latex. Larceny.
Sometimes, it merely takes a star I like and a subject that sounds sexy to sell me on a movie. Most of the time, when I make decisions based on these criteria, I am sorely disappointed. Walk All Over Me stars Leelee Sobieski (Dangerous Liasons) and Tricia Helfer (Sci-Fi Channel's Battlestar Galactica) and features dominatrixes in fetish gear. Yikes, I'm sold! Yet, history tends to repeat itself.
Facts of the Case
Alberta (Sobieski) is a small town girl who seems to find trouble wherever she goes. She's working at her local grocery one night when her boyfriend and her boss clash over a drug deal gone bad. She freaks out and, as her boyfriend's getting his head slammed in a car door, Alberta takes off, leaving her home for the wonders of Vancouver, British Columbia. In the big city with no prospects, she drops in on Celene (Helfer), her former babysitter, who is living the good life as a high-dollar dominatrix. Alberta finds the idea appealing and one day, playing around, she dons the gear and poses as Celene to meet a new client. Instead of a fun-filled afternoon of heels and whips, however, Alberta gets involved with a bag of stolen cash and the criminals who want it back.
While I understand the impulse to flee from the scene when a drug deal goes bad, it is a weirdly cold way to start a comic noir. Worse, they never mention the incident again. Is her boyfriend even still alive? It does not appear that Alberta really cares. This is a tough way to build sympathy for the main character, but Sobieski still has enough charm to help us forget that she messed the deal up and she may have killed her boyfriend. Still, because it's the first thing to happen, it hangs over the rest of the film, demanding a resolution that does not come. Much of the film seems thrown together in this manner, with little regard for what has come before or after. They lean on the appeal of the actors and the quirkiness of their performances to carry the film. Some of this is successful. Helfer is beautiful and fits well into the role of disciplinarian; she is a commanding presence. Sobieski could be, too, but she is once again cast as the ingénue, a role that is becoming less and less convincing for her every time out. She's smart, beautiful, and charming, not to mention tall. She has the look and ability to play more powerful characters, and she is due for better roles. She performs this role with skill and intelligence, but she is definitely miscast.
On its basic level, Walk All Over Me is a film about two women reconnecting and, on that level, it is fine. Helfer and Sobieski display good chemistry as mentor and student, and their performances often ring emotionally true. It's when we get outside of them that things become less convincing. The thugs are pure comic foils for the women, but there's never a point where you think the girls are in danger. The gang is too bumbling, too silly to take seriously. Lothaire Bluteau (Urbania) does his best Joe Pesci as the leader, but all the frantic, neurotic energy becomes increasingly irritating as the film goes on. Michael Eklund (House of the Dead) and Michael Adamthwaite (Walking Tall) round out the gang as a pair of brothers prone to violent outbursts of sibling rivalry. Their antics fighting each other make for the funniest parts of the film but, with no suspense, their tough guy act falls flat.
The most frustrating part is the way the dominatrix scenes are handled. For all the talk of sexuality and deviance, this is by far the tamest film about fetishes I've ever seen. Helfer and Sobieski both look great in the outfits, but the most deviant image in the movie is a tubby shirtless guy on all fours in leather suspenders. It seems that the choice was made for marketing purposes only, and it is virtually forgotten about by the time the real crime story starts. At one point toward the beginning, Celene easily overpowers one of the criminals, throwing him through furniture and stomping him. Later, however, in a similar scene, she is easily caught and restrained. Clearly, it was easier to develop the character in the beginning by showing her tough but, by the end, her toughness was a hindrance to the plot so they just dropped it altogether. It becomes easy to forget that the film ever even involved a dominatrix, as she turns into simpering cliché at the drop of a whip.
Writer/director Robert Cuffley clearly had a lot of quirky ideas that he wanted to make a movie out of without considering how to tie these elements together. For every interesting, amusing tidbit, there are lines and lines of hackneyed dialogue to string it together. Characters change whenever it's convenient. Sometimes they return to their original form and sometimes they don't. There is no consistency in performance, writing, or direction. The soundtrack is chock full of terrible rock songs that allude to spanking and safe words that are inserted at inappropriate and seemingly random times. Whether this was a creative choice to throw the mood further off kilter or just more evidence of brainless filmmaking is uncertain. Regardless, it's a big mistake that took me out of the movie every time those power chords rang in.
Genius Products' release of Walk All Over Me is a far cry better than the film itself. The anamorphic transfer is very clean and there is good detail in even the darkest lighting. The colors are bright and saturated and skin tones are perfectly represented. The 5.1 surround mix may not be quite as dynamic as the picture, but it's still very good. All the channels are frequently utilized, and the bottom end gets a pretty good workout, especially in those woefully awful songs (for better or for worse). A good number of extras supplement the release, with a commentary from Cuffley, Helfer, and Sobieski that displays just how little objectivity actors and directors can have about their own work. They really try to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear on this, but no amount of justification will make this movie better. A making-of featurette, a deleted scene, and a music video (since I so badly wanted to hear the theme song one more time) round out the disc. This is the kind of release that I wish all movies would get.
Hackneyed writing, inconsistent performances, and a bland sense of style do not a good movie make. Add to that a lurid plotline that turns out to be a bait-and-switch and songs that make you want to drive pencils into your ears, and you've got some pretty marginal entertainment.
Guilty. Get my paddle.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Audio commentary with Robert Cuffley, Tricia Helfer, and Leelee Sobieski
Review content copyright © 2008 Daryl Loomis; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.