“Indecent Proposal” meets tantalizing fragments of film noir classics in the swamps, mansions and dives of New Orleans in “Tempted.” Second American pic from Australian helmer Bill Bennett (after the ill-fated “Two if by Sea”) was improvised by cast on the basis of a one-page synopsis. While auds don’t care how a film came to be, “Tempted” reps quite an achievement in the arena of making-it-up-as-you-go-along for supple thesps and incredibly nimble tech crew. But while there’s a definite mood of menace, some steamy sex and a few quirky twists, end result doesn’t feel quite as potent as it could have been. Pic deserves specialized exposure prior to a long life on cable and video.
The situation of wealthy and powerful construction magnate Charlie Le Blanc (Burt Reynolds) is too good to be true, so he decides to test it. He’s been married to gorgeous and faithful former model Lilly (Saffron Burrows) for a few years. But when Charlie learns he may have a fatal illness, he becomes obsessed with whether the woman who will inherit his handsome holdings loves him for himself or his money. With his lug of a devoted bodyguard Dot (Mike Starr) at his side, Charlie recruits hunky young Jimmy Mulate (Peter Facinelli) — poor carpenter by day and poor law student by night — to seduce his wife. If Jimmy succeeds, Charlie will pay him $50,000.
Unbeknownst to Jimmy, Charlie hires surveillance lawyer Byron Blades (George DiCenzo) to bug the bedroom and other nookie-conducive areas of his manse with tiny video cameras. Spy devices add an extra layer of voyeurism to pic’s casual investigation of decadent behavior in the lap of luxury.
Lilly fights off Jimmy’s first advance in no uncertain terms. But when Lilly inadvertently learns that her beloved husband is behind Jimmy’s lusty lunges, she decides to teach both men a lesson — or so she thinks.
The precious china in a sideboard cupboard shatters as Jimmy has his way with Lilly in the kitchen. Confronted with the evidence of his wife’s infidelity, Charlie discovers he’s suffering from rabid jealousy as well as a brain tumor. With the powerful Dot’s assistance, Charlie convinces Jimmy that Lilly must die and Jimmy’s just the guy to kill her. Thing is, Jimmy has fallen hard for the lady.
The twists and curves are layered with pithy dialogue and an ambient aura of loss and doom fueled by desire and revenge. Thesps have a way with words and body language, with Starr and DiCenzo inventively milking their supporting roles for all they’re worth. Reynolds, Burrows and Facinelli form a juicy triangle and manage to put across their motivations even in the handful of junctures where the plot grows as opaque as brackish swamp waters.
And if a subplot in which Jimmy’s best friend Ted (Eric Mabius) enlists Jimmy’s help to dispose of a dead body doesn’t quite work, most of the action is surprisingly intense for having been conjured off the cuff.
Budget is put to excellent use and pic drips with atmosphere, with an admiring nod to ultra-flexible d.p. Tony Clark and never-shy sound designer Wayne Pashley.