Psychotic neighbors are the latest riff on the urban paranoia theme, to follow psychotic one-night stands, nannies, cops and roommates. “Consenting Adults” initially seems a little brainier than its brethren but soon gives way to the same cavernous lapses in logic and formula ending, though the cast and clear appeal of the genre could insure a strong opening and modest long-term box office life.
The most distinctive element here is Kevin Spacey’s over-the-top performance as the smarmy newcomer to the block, Eddy Otis, who ultimately lures his risk-aversive neighbor (Kevin Kline) into a proposed wife-swap that leads to the baseball-bat murder of Spacey’s wife as part of an elaborate insurance scam.
Kline’s character ends up framed for the murder, forcing him to try to decipher the mystery and win back his own wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who has conveniently and rather inexplicably fled into Spacey’s arms.
That’s not all that’s hard to figure out about this story, which, as constructed by director Alan J. Pakula and writer Matthew Chapman, provides no sense of the passage of time, making huge leaps from one narrative point to another with only the barest string connecting them.
There is, for example, a stretch where the audience is unsure just who was involved in the plot, an intriguing possibility that seems to be due more to happenstance than design. There are also major informational gaps even when the film’s over, such as the extent of the other wife’s involvement in the scheme.
Like other movies in this genre, the film does tap into a certain psychological vein–the idea that onemoment’s indiscretion can shatter the most mundane and seemingly idyllic existence.
Still, “Adults” suffers from an absurdity level that undermines its chills as well as its few genuine laughs. The film also lacks necessary background about what in Kline and Mastrantonio’s marriage made them so susceptible to the wiles of this other couple, other than as a convenient plot device.
Pakula can’t seem to make up his mind whether this is going to be a legitimate drama or conventional thriller–of the cheap scare variety–and finds himself caught in the same middle ground Barbet Schroeder awkwardly straddled in “Single White Female.”
Perhaps because of those narrative flaws, neither Kline nor Mastrantonio (reunited after teaming with more chemistry in another muddled effort, “The January Man”) is particularly distinguished here.
Rebecca Miller, seen previously in “Regarding Henry,” oozes sex appeal, but the real stand-out is Spacey, who established his inordinate skill playing psychopaths with a disarming sense of humor back in the TV series “Wiseguy.”
Among the supporting cast, both Forest Whitaker and E.G. Marshall are under-used as, respectively, an insurance investigator and Kline’s attorney, in part because the authorities seem all too eager to buy Eddy’s story hook, line and sinker.
Tech credits are adequate, with thankfully little gore and particular kudos to the design of Spacey’s bordello-like living room as well as the deftly shot love scene, which leaves ample room for speculation about what really happened. Too bad in providing the answers the filmmakers, unlike the murderer, end up with such a low batting average.