Monday, July 6, 2009

Sex, Lies and Obsession (Cairo/Simpson/Hearst/Lifetime, 2001)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This morning I also watched a Lifetime movie called Sex, Lies and Obsession, a 2001 production starring Harry Hamlin as sexually compulsive orthopedic surgeon Cameron Thomas and Lisa Rinna as his long-suffering wife Joanna, a high-school drama teacher who at the start of the movie is supposedly utterly clueless about her husband’s extra-relational activities even though he’s going about it so blatantly obviously he’s left a trail about two miles wide. He cruises all over the place, picking up an off-duty flight attendant named Tiffany Sheldon (Carolyn Dunn) when his flight from Boston to Pittsburgh is delayed and rendezvousing with her in a Pittsburgh hotel (Joanna’s suspicions are aroused when she finds his credit-card receipt for a hotel other than the one he told her he was staying at) — when he shows up and asks for her room number and for a room adjoining hers, the desk clerk is played in a marvelous vignette performance by Emanuel Arruda (proving that they didn’t break the mold after they made Franklin Pangborn) in which he seems to be thinking, “Straight people are so obvious when they cruise!”

In any event, it seems as if Cameron is dropping his pants (and his seed) all over the place, from “massage” parlors to street hookers to grungy tricks in rotten neighborhoods (in Pittsburgh he asked that desk clerk if there were any “bad” neighborhoods he should avoid, and when the clerk told him, in the very next scene he hailed a taxi and told the cab driver to take him there!). In one sequence he picks up a woman off the street — she’s actually a crack dealer and thinks he’s a rich white guy there for drugs rather than sex, though she’s willing to do him for $20 and takes him to her crash pad, whereupon just after they’ve done the down and dirty they’re greeted by her boyfriend, who says, “You’re only supposed to be selling rock, not your ass!” (that’s not quite accurate since from what we’ve seen earlier it’s clear she just sucked him off and they didn’t fuck), beats him up and says that if he had the time he’d kill them both.

Then he’s really caught when he accosts a dark-haired woman in full street-hooker drag, and as he’s about to offer her money for sex he sees the picture of his wife and two sons Josh (Kevin Zegers) and Ryan (Robert Clark) and draws back — too late, as she turns out to be an undercover cop and he’s busted for solicitation for prostitution. When Joanna shows up to bail him out she’s ushered into a room where all the other wives and girlfriends of the men caught similarly are waiting, and eventually Cameron’s attorney wangles him a deal to avoid a public trial and jail time in return for joining a 12-step group and getting therapy for sex addiction. From this point the movie ceases to be a potentially interesting A Spy in the House of Love-ish story of a person leading a double life and spending a lot of time on the sexual dark side, and becomes instead a quite dull and overly predictable “therapy movie” in which both the relapses (actually, just one relapse) and the ultimate reconciliation come way too patly in Patricia Resnick’s script.

Sex, Lies and Obsession — the title, of course, is a ripoff from Steven Soderbergh’s star-making 1989 indie sex, lies and videotape (the original title of that film was printed in all lower-case letters), though the two movies otherwise have virtually nothing in common aside from a sexual theme — is indifferently directed by Douglas Barr, and isn’t helped by the surprisingly small amount of soft-core porn (just a quick opening sequence of Hamlin in bed with an anonymous blonde) or by the fact that Lisa Rinna, with her round face, fat lips and eyeliner ringing the entire circumference of her eyes, looks more like Mick Jagger in drag than the suburban housewife and dedicated teacher we’re told she is in Resnick’s script. (I’ll give the casting department credit for one coup, though: Kevin Zegers actually looks credible as the offspring of Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna — though that isn’t much help because Robert Clark, cast as his younger brother, doesn’t look much like anyone else in his movie “family.”)

Sex, Lies and Obsession
disappoints because it simply isn’t the sort of good clean dirty fun its title and premise promised, and though we’re supposed to think Harry Hamlin is the rotter of all time I couldn’t help but flash back to his part as the Gay man who seduced Michael Ontkean away from his wife in the 1982 melodrama Making Love — I wanted to take Lisa Rinna aside and tell her, “It could be worse — at least he’s only sleeping with women!”