“Never Talk to Strangers” is a reasonably entertaining but largely uninspired erotic thriller that’s too much a chip off the “Fatal Attraction”-“Sea of Love” block. The promise of high-impact bedroom aerobics featuring sexy stars Rebecca De Mornay and Antonio Banderas will generate some interest, but the fully clothed drama isn’t nearly as enthralling as the steamy scenes, so the pic isn’t likely to maintain much B.O. ardor for long.
There are two especially titillating scenes in “Never Talk to Strangers,” including one that makes innovative use of a steel cage, and TriStar has trimmed some footage — apparently mostly of a naked Banderas — from the second heavy-duty sex bout in order to garner R rating Stateside.
The uncut, more explicit version is the one Alliance is releasing in Canada and will be seen in most other international territories. Scene in question isn’t even that ribald and would be unlikely to raise eyebrows in the U.S. Running time is reportedly the same in both versions, as replacement footage was inserted in the U.S. cut.
Yarn rolls with cool criminal psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Taylor (De Mornay) interviewing angry accused serial killer Max Cheski (Harry Dean Stanton). In a development right out of “Sea of Love,” Taylor bumps into mysterious-but-attractive stranger Toni Ramirez (Banderas) in the supermarket wine aisle. Before you can say Cabernet Sauvignon, the shy, distrustful shrink is off tasting wine at the suitably spooky loft of the self-described “surveillance consultant.”
Already fairly paranoid — thanks to her explosive chats with Cheski — and wary of her enigmatic new lover, she feels her anxiety spill over during an almost violent argument with Ramirez.
She takes off after the blowup, but the confrontation also sparks some new desires within the ultra-controlled Taylor. She returns to his pad, slaps his face and initiates the hottest encounter of the pic. His bed is surrounded by a wire cagelike structure, which plays a central role in the sex play.
Then comes the dead-pet twist — the cadaver of Taylor’s cat is delivered to her apartment. It’s the final straw for the near-hysterical shrink, who hires a private investigator to tail Ramirez. Turns out that lover boy has lied about a trip to Boston, having flown instead to Taylor’s hometown of Albany, N.Y., to look up info on her, then to New York City to meet what looks to be his wife and child.
After Taylor’s upstairs neighbor Cliff (Dennis Miller) gets clobbered with a lead pipe in the alley behind their apartment building, the identity of the stalker is revealed in a surprise ending that will severely stretch the credulity of most viewers.
De Mornay gives an intense, affecting perf as the repressed psychiatrist, and De Mornay and Banderas provide further evidence that they’re not lacking in the bigscreen sex-appeal department. But Banderas has less to work with as Ramirez, a character saddled with far too many Latin-lover cliches. Stanton is perfect as the smart-but-demented serial killer and Miller, as always, is droll as the somewhat befuddled neighbor who has the hots for Taylor.
Peter Hall does an efficient job moving the story along and manages to temper the thriller plotting with some in-depth drama. But there is little here to evoke Hall’s acclaimed theater work, and lack of sparkle is due in part to a script by Lewis Green and Jordan Rush that’s simply not very original.
Production designers Linda Del Rosario and Richard Paris set an effective tone with Ramirez’s bizarre, enticing love nest of a loft, and Elemer Ragalyi’s mostly nocturnal lensing helps sustain that edgy mood.