Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore

Pic holds viewer interest for a while in, but then allows the plot to spin way over the top.

Sexual suspicion and game-playing spiral down from the exotically intriguing to outright silliness in “Chloe.” Director Atom Egoyan, who earlier in his career explored wayward sexuality with an insinuating exactitude, holds viewer interest for a while in this tale of marital stress, but then allows the plot to spin way over the top and, literally, out the window. Appealing cast and the whiff of the naughty will stir mild B.O. action.

Pic is based on Anne Fontaine’s 2003 French film “Nathalie,” in which Fanny Ardant and Gerard Depardieu starred as a couple whose marriage is pushed to the edge when the wife, suspicious her hubby is cheating, hires a prostitute (Emmanuelle Beart) to meet him and report back about what happened.

Same set-up applies here in the adaptation by Erin Cressida Wilson (“Secretary,” “Fur”), with Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson playing Catherine and David Stewart, who live a posh life in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville district. Based on slim evidence that David, a music professor quite popular with his female students, might be fooling around, Catherine encounters a pretty girl-about-town, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), and pays her to learn whether or not her man is as susceptible as she believes to other women.

Chloe, it turns out, is a real pro, so good at what she does that Catherine quizzes her as to details, and for a while the audience can share her voyeuristic interest in learning some of her trade secrets. Before long, Chloe is explicitly describing heated encounters with David, and Catherine starts getting rather hot and bothered herself.

Simply stated, when Catherine starts losing control, so does the film. The sexual deceptions, experiments, lies and revelations from this point on are polymorphously perverse, as they used to say, but decreasingly credible, leading to a denouement both ludicrous from a dramatic p.o.v. and far too punitive morally for the most transgressive of the central figures. For whatever investment a viewer has left in the story by the climax, the finale blows it all to bits.

Along the way, Egoyan and lenser Paul Sarossy provide a sleek tour of relentlessly chic restaurants and hotels (at the Toronto Fest unspooling, the audience was getting a good laugh from the eminently recognizable locations, all seemingly within about a two-block radius of the venue in question), as well as the lead couple’s Architectural Digest-worthy house. More laughs stem from the fact that Catherine and David’s teenage son Michael (Max Thieriot) always happens to be around the house whenever something sexually convulsive is either happening or being discussed.

Thesps give it a truly earnest effort in a losing cause, and Moore and Seyfried both strip down repeatedly in the call of duty. Pic has the production polish of an expensive European import straight off the showroom floor.

Chloe

France - Canada

Production

A StudioCanal presentation of a Montecito Picture Co. presentation. (International sales: StudioCanal, Paris.) Produced by Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck, Jeffrey Clifford. Executive producers, Jason Reitman, Daniel Dubiecki, Thomas P. Pollock, Ronald Halpern, Olivier Courson. Co-producers, Simone Urdl, Jennifer Weiss. Directed by Atom Egoyan. Screenplay, Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the motion picture "Nathalie," directed by Anne Fontaine, screenplay by Philippe Blasbland, Fontaine, Jacques Fieschi, Francois-Olivier Rousseau.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Paul Sarossy; editor, Susan Smith; music, Mychael Danna; production designer, Phillip Barker; art director, Kim M. McQuister; costume designer, Debra Hanson; sound (Dolby Digital), Bissa Scekic; sound designer, Steven Munro; second unit camera, J.P. Locherer; casting, Joanna Colbert, Richard Mento (U.S.), John Buchan, Jason Knight (Canada). Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations), Sept. 14, 2009. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Catherine Stewart - Julianne Moore David Stewart - Liam Neeson Chloe - Amanda Seyfried Michael Stewart - Max Thieriot Frank - R.H. Thomson Anna - Nina Dobrev

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