Billed as an erotic thriller but playing more like an R-rated daytime soap, “Addicted” marks a rare but dramatically neutered opportunity to explore a black woman’s sexuality onscreen. Based on the breakthrough novel by popular erotica author Zane, musicvid director Bille Woodruff’s adaptation bears the conflicted burden of tempting audiences with its attractive cast in various states of undress, while simultaneously trying to destigmatize the touchy topic of sex addiction. Attempts at serious sensuality in mainstream movies haven’t been a theatrical turn-on for some time now (next year’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” looks like a more significant test case), but Zane’s fan base could propel this slick, superficial yet mildly seductive drama to some frisky action in ancillary.
Arriving in theaters sans screenings for critics, the latest release from Lionsgate’s CodeBlack Films division could be glibly dismissed as “Tyler Perry’s Unfaithful,” if Perry hadn’t already been down a similar perils-of-infidelity road with the execrable “Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.” Thankfully, “Addicted” proves far more forgiving of its tortured heroine, Zoe Reynard (Sharon Leal), a woman whose picture-perfect home life with her hunky high-school sweetheart husband, Jason (Boris Kodjoe), and two happy children mirrors her thriving career as a manager for contemporary artists.
Anyone able to look behind that idealized exterior would quickly discover Zoe’s inner life is a hot mess. As she confesses on her first visit to sympathetic therapist Dr. Spencer (Tasha Smith), she and Jason have sex two to three times a day but it’s still not enough. Her insatiable craving for something more leads to a torrid affair with passionate Latin artist Quinton Canosa (William Levy), who entices her with his provocative paintings and slightly disturbing abandonment issues (his mother deserted him at a young age with no explanation, causing his father to commit suicide).
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When the intimacy of her relationship with Quinton becomes too much to handle (he tells her he loves her and asks her to leave Jason), Zoe heads for a local Atlanta club and picks up Corey (Tyson Beckford), a wild womanizer more than willing to fulfill at least some of her carnal desires with zero emotional attachment. Meanwhile, Zoe’s perfect life starts to crumble — she’s MIA for her son’s soccer games as well as important business meetings arranged by her BFF and colleague, Brina (Emayatzy Corinealdi, criminally underused). All the while, Dr. Spencer urges Zoe to dig deeper into long-repressed secrets from her past, symbolized by a permanent scar on her wrist.
Most of “Addicted” unfolds as straight-faced melodrama, with the screenplay by Christina Welsh and Ernie Barbarash depicting Zoe as a conflicted woman tentatively but instinctively exploring her sexual options. It’s hardly an artful lament for the loneliness of addiction, a la Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” but it’s not exactly an act of cinematic slut shaming either — at least until an entirely bewildering third-act twist temporarily transforms Quinton into a rampaging maniac before he disappears from the picture entirely.
In the end, Jason has as much to learn about himself as Zoe, and the film’s fiercely pro-marriage stance ultimately feels more respectful of both partners than the laughably moralistic Perry films or the male panic nightmares of “Fatal Attraction.” Still, as premium cable begins to corner the market on racier fare (“Game of Thrones,” “Masters of Sex” and “Outlander” have all aired episodes that make the discreetly filmed couplings in “Addicted” look PG-13), one yearns for a healthier, more mature depiction of sexuality on the bigscreen. Perhaps something that involves a happily married couple or an empowered woman following her desires without the onus of a compulsive illness hanging over her head.
The sudsy quality of the production ensures all the performers look terrific, but aren’t given particularly impressive material to work with. Still, “Dreamgirls” co-star Leal comfortably shoulders the demands of a lead in which she’s onscreen in almost every scene, bringing an effortless sex appeal to the part and reminding audiences how depressingly few and far between substantial roles for black actresses truly are. Maybe by design, Leal has more chemistry with Kodjoe than Levy, a telenovela star and former “Dancing With the Stars” contestant who never seems quite as irresistible as the character demands.
Tech credits are standard, including Aaron Zigman’s hot-and-bothered score, although production designer Jeffrey Pratt Gordon’s immaculate home and office spaces could allow for an alternate marketing strategy as interior-design porn.