A feeble attempt to redo Roman Polanski’s psychosexual suspenser “Repulsion,” the misleadingly titled “Toughguy” is one of those infuriating movies in which an imperiled single woman stays at home alone with almost all the lights out despite the fact that a violent intruder is breaking in at regular intervals. Dimly plotted and meagerly motivated, this murky meller is a woeful male adolescent fantasy of dubious appeal to any audience.
Director/co-writer James Merendino, whose previous pic, “The Upstairs Neighbor,” spinned off of Polanski’s “The Tenant,” makes Olive (Heather Graham) the victim of one assault after another. For starters, her husband kills her lover in front of her, then blows his own head off.
The object of much sexist comment at work, the placid young woman begins to suspect that she’s the target of a stalker and, indeed, someone repeatedly enters her fifth-floor apartment and variously punches her, ransacks her place and beats her up.
Then her best friend, Pearl (Lisa Zane), sexualizes their relationship, and the cop assigned to protect Olive turns on her when she doesn’t respond to his come-on, whereupon she’s on her own to ward off whoever is after her, which seems to be everyone in Los Angeles.
Merendino mimics Polanski’s prowling, voyeuristic camera style but develops none of the master’s tension or perverse humor, grimly wallowing instead in the offended psyches of the many males who are apparently devastated by Olive’s wholesome beauty but don’t get what they want from her. There’s not a moment of natural human interaction or psychological depth, but rather a bevy of characters intent upon not understanding one another and then flinging accusations and abuse around as a response to rejection.
The attractive Graham fills the bill as an all-purpose object of desire, but her utter blankness in the face of her initial loss, and stock fright at later developments, keep the viewer completely outside her mind. Zane contributes a bit of energy, while all the guys are loutish turnoffs.
Even the sex-and-violence boys will have little to get enthused about, as graphic and gory stuff is kept to a minimum. As writers, Merendino and Megan Heath have a lot to learn, as many scenes, particularly in the early going, make their points at once and are then history, allowing for no dramatic or character development. Music, dominated by heavy cello and bassoon riffs, proves oppressive after a while.
A climactic revelation attempts to give the drama some psychological import, but pic is beyond salvaging by that point. Final frustration is that one waits in vain for some explanation as to why a film entirely about a lovely young woman is called “Toughguy.”