An every-which-way script takes the heat out of “Playmaker,” part erotic thriller, part psychodrama, part old-fashioned murder mystery that can’t make up its mind which direction it’s headed. Despite good chemistry between leads Colin Firth and Jennifer Rubin, and smart-looking direction by Yuri Zeltser, this genre mishmash looks like a tough sell theatrically for Orion in the U.S., with cable and homevid looming as more appropriate destinations.
Pic starts promisingly, with career-stalled actress Jamie (Rubin) hearing about casting sessions for a big-budget movie, “Playmaker,” and following the advice of bartender friend Eddie (John Getz) to take a cramming session with reclusive acting coach Ross Talbert.
Arriving at Talbert’s remote home in the L.A. hills, Jamie meets a man (Firth) who immediately starts playing bizarre mind games, building up and breaking down her confidence to improve her thespian skills.
These scenes, played with cool, erotic assurance by both leads, climax in a hotsy sequence (shot like “9 1/2 Weeks”) of Rubin lying atop a grand piano as Firth slowly scissors off her black dress and scanties.
Just when the movie is shaping up as a psychodrama class act, script takes its first left — into woman-in-jeopardy territory — as Rubin discovers morbid files on other actress clients and shoots Firth in panic.
Next left turn seriously stretches credibility, with Rubin finding out in L.A. that Firth’s character faked his death and is actually an out-of-work actor who impersonated Talbert. To get her revenge, she disguises herself as a casting director and sexually humiliates him back at the house.
Pic goes completely off the rails hereon, switching to a murder mystery in which the real villain appears, and a loony coda of Rubin shooting her agent and driving off again to the house in the hills.
Zeltser, who started as a scripter and whose directing bow was the interesting 1992 direct-to-video “Eye of the Storm,” shows style to spare but drops the ball early on as a writer. Rubin and Firth, aces in the opening half-hour, gamely struggle on for the rest. Tech credits are fine, with handsome lensing by Aussie cinematographer Ross Berryman.