Consenting Adults (1992) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, nudity, violence, and language
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Kevin Kline, Kevin Spacey, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Rebecca Miller, Forest Whitaker, E.G. Marshall
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Screenplay: Matthew Chapman
Review published July 8, 2006
Richard Parker (Kline, Silverado) is a composer of advertising jingles with a mountain of debts and a staleness in a marriage to his wife, Priscilla (Mastrantonio, Scarface). His new neighbor is a friendly but impulsive guy named Eddy Otis (Spacey, Glengarry Glen Ross), who comes across as a risk-taking entrepreneur. Richard admires Eddy's spirit and determination, but lately he also has been admiring Eddy's hot-stuff wife, Kay (Miller, Regarding Henry). Eddy makes Richard an indecent proposal -- swap beds for the night and do each other's wives. The plan is shut down by Richard immediately, but a case of blue balls gets the best of him, and he later consents. The next day, Richard is arrested for the murder of Eddy's wife, savagely beaten with a baseball bat with evidence of his tryst incriminating him. With no one to turn to, Richard must find a way to exonerate himself.
Consenting Adults is a tawdry and not-too-clever thriller that has one critical problem with the plot that unfortunately I can't reveal much of without going into major spoilers (can a film this rotten actually be spoiled?). Suffice it to say, the part where the plot finally kicks in involves a "clever" twist that was done to much better extent in Hitchcock's masterpiece, Vertigo, except the way it is implemented here makes absolutely no sense, and could never in a million years work unless everyone in the film, including Richard, Priscilla, Richard's lawyer, the coroner, the judge, everyone on the jury, and the forensic examiner, were all complete, unequivocal idiots. Unfortunately, they also think that we, the audience, must be as well, or they wouldn't offer up such a ridiculously illogical premise.
Such a cast of intelligent actors is too good for a script this stupid. The Kevins, Kline and Spacey, are always engaging to watch, and they do give their parts their all, but they just aren't enough to save the film. Mastrantonio, also a good actress, is given the worst, and perhaps the most idiotic role in the film, miscast in a role that should have really gone to a complete dingbat. Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur and a future director herself, gets the leanest role of the film as the trophy wife, which is probably why she comes out of the deal mostly unscathed -- the less one has to say in this film, the more intelligent they seem to be.
During most of their scenes together, Kline and Spacey are shown to engage in physical fitness activities such as jogging and boxing, so you can guess the ending is set up for a physical altercation. With the story's implausibility already escalating to absurd proportions by the film's climax, you probably won't think twice about Eddy's desire for Richard to show up at his home to implicate him in more murders, while also contradicting this desire by having the house surrounded by guards -- apparently deaf guards that won't do a thing when dozens of round of ammo are dispensed by Eddy's Uzi (everyone's weapon of choice for a self-defense excuse, right?).
Consenting Adults isn't the worst sleazy thriller to come out in its era, but it is one of the most feebleminded. Hitchcock could have done so much more with this material, but then again, he already did variations on the same basic plot elements (innocent man accused, dangerous "friends", swapping indiscretions, murderer in suburbia, etc.) throughout his career. He would have also covered up glaring plot holes with humor, intrigue, and a sense of daring, which are all of the things this preposterous thriller sorely lacks. No adult should consent to watching this before the infinitely superior film, Vertigo, or really, consent to watching it at all.
©2006 Vince Leo