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Going Under

A married psychotherapist becomes over-involved with a professional dominatrix half his age in "Going Under." First feature by actual psychotherapist Eric Werthman -- who's mum on whether the story is at all autobiographical -- avoids going down the trite erotic-thriller path typical of such themes. Still, its low-key dramatics are only moderately compelling. Pic has been kicking around the fest circuit for the last couple years; scattered theatrical run opens May 18 at San Francisco's Roxie Film Center.

With:
With: Roger Rees, Geno Lechner, Kit Flanagan, Jenny Sterlin, Phyllis Somerville, Angela Forrest, Richard Eagan, Brian J. Keane, Beau van Donkelaar, Wendy Scharfman, Miho Nikaido.

A married psychotherapist becomes over-involved with a professional dominatrix half his age in “Going Under.” First feature by actual psychotherapist Eric Werthman — who’s mum on whether the story is at all autobiographical — avoids going down the trite erotic-thriller path typical of such themes. Still, its low-key dramatics are only moderately compelling. Pic has been kicking around the fest circuit for the last couple years; scattered theatrical run opens May 18 at San Francisco’s Roxie Film Center.

Peter (Roger Rees) and author/wife Pat (Kit Flanagan) are successful professionals with an only daughter about to leave for college. Theirs is a marriage open enough that he can confide he’s been paying to see “Mistress Diana” aka Suzanne (Geno Lechner). Spouse is discomfited, however, by his further confession that feelings of attachment have gone beyond the mere client stage.

Suzanne seems to feel likewise, if warily. Lucky for Peter, Pat leaves for her annual summertime writing retreat in Nova Scotia just as he’s succumbing to a full-on obsession with Suzanne.

Neither Peter nor Suzanne ever quite figures out what they want from each other — particularly bisexual Suzanne, who’s already stringing along at least one girlfriend and has control issues around getting too close to anyone. Peter’s penchant for punishment seems rooted in a humiliating childhood speech impediment, shown in flashbacks.

Modestly scaled but sporting a pro sheen, “Going Under” earns points for a thoughtful overall tenor and intelligent restraint.

But in the end there’s just not enough tension, emotional juice or narrative revelation in this portrait of two souls who flirt with borderline dangerous entanglement, yet are ultimately too intellectually removed to risk losing their heads. Despite the pushing-the-envelope theme, the pic has dull spots. And the ambiguous fadeout leaves the protags just where they started out.

Main reason to watch “Going Under” is to see veteran stage/screen/tube thesp Rees (Royal Shakespeare Co, “The West Wing,” “Cheers,” et al) go for broke in a part that would surely scare off most actors of any repute. Easily adopting an American accent, the now 63-year-old Welshman not only delivers a committed perf, he also spends a great deal of time utterly (as the Brits might put it) starkers — providing a physical-fitness role model for anyone entering their seventh decade.

Packaging is tasteful, from Vladimir Subotic’s lensing to David Darling’s mournful score.

Going Under

Production: An Argot Pictures release of an EDW production. Produced by Jessica Gohlke, Vlad Nikolic. Directed by Eric Werthman. Screenplay, Jessica Gohlke, Werthman.

Crew: Camera (color), Vladimir Subotic; editor, Vlad Nikolic; music, David Darling; production designer, Ann McKinnon; art director, Andrew Steever; costume designer, Griffin Richardson; sound (DTS), Richardson; Donna Zakowska; assistant directors, Terry Leonard, Josh Levine; casting, Denise Fitzgerald. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, May 9, 2007. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Roger Rees, Geno Lechner, Kit Flanagan, Jenny Sterlin, Phyllis Somerville, Angela Forrest, Richard Eagan, Brian J. Keane, Beau van Donkelaar, Wendy Scharfman, Miho Nikaido.

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