Part showbiz satire, part exploding-marriage study, part tragic fable, “Seducing Charlie Barker” packs a little too much into 93 minutes for the mix to be entirely successful, or credible. But while this adaptation of Theresa Rebeck’s play “The Scene” translates to the screen a bit more unevenly than helmer Amy Glazer’s prior feature, “Drifting Elegant” (also stage-derived), the ace performances, some scary confrontations and impressively bad behavior make pic easy to get caught up in. Cable placements rep the best commercial prospects.

Strenuously brisk opening reels measure the cracks in Stella (Daphne Zuniga) and Charlie’s (Stephen Barker Turner) 14-year marriage. His once-busy acting career has hit a slump, while she pays the bills via a TV talent-booker gig she hates. He’s urged to hit up old pal-turned-producer Nick (Steve Cell) for work at a party, but instead gets caught up in the dubious allure of Manhattan newbie Clea (Heather Gordon), a twentysomething blonde with a hard body and no inhibitions.

Snatching her from the clutches of equally smitten best friend Lewis (David Wilson Barnes), Charlie placates his midlife crisis by plunging into a reckless affair. Stella discovers them going at it in a comedic-horror peak made even worse by Clea’s jaw-dropping sense of entitlement.

The extent of Charlie’s subsequent freefall is more than the hitherto-acidic “Seducing” can handle; we can’t quite accept that he’d let himself hit this deep a bottom. Also, pic’s hurried pace doesn’t always abet its narrative scope, as events apparently taking place over many months play as if crammed into a much shorter span. Amid the hectic pileup, the script’s indictment of the acting/entertainment worlds as surreal and soul-sucking comes off too vaguely defined.

Where Rebeck excels is in character writing and dynamics, and Glazer’s thesps grasp their meaty opportunities with disciplined relish. Sure to be a viewer talking point is the compulsively contradictory Clea, a monster of need and narcissism (duly billed in press materials as “a modern-day succubus”) that Gordon somehow manages to keep from becoming cartoonish. Her showdown with Charlie runs a close second to the aforementioned triangular faceoff in terms of emotional fireworks and quotably eviscerating dialogue.

Packaging is slick, though the look leans toward the brightly televisual.

Seducing Charlie Barker

  • Production: A Kanbar Entertainment presentation in association with Bashert Prods. (International sales: Kanbar Entertainment, San Francisco.) Produced by Lynn Webb, Maurice Kanbar. Executive producer, Kanbar. Co-producers, Owen Seitel, Daphne Zuniga, Ned Kopp. Directed by Amy Glazer. Screenplay, Theresa Rebeck, adapted from her play "The Scene."
  • Crew: Camera (HD), Jim Orr; editors, Rick LeCompte, Jordan Ceccarelli; music, Bruce Fowler; production designer, Doug Freeman; costume designer, Jocelyn Leiser Hernden; set decorator, Stephanie Vigil; sound (Dolby Digital), Conrad Slater, Phil Turner; supervising sound editor, Dave Nelson; assistant director, Ed Martin; casting, Meg Pearson. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival (Cinema by the Bay), May 2, 2010. (Also in Method Fest.) Running time: 93 MIN.
  • With: With: Daphne Zuniga, Stephen Barker Turner, Heather Gordon, David Wilson Barnes, Steve Cell, Pamela Gaye Walker, Liam Vincent.