Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio Give in to the Fiendish Temptations of Kevin Spacey
DIRECTED BY ALAN J. PAKULA/1992
STREET DATE: APRIL 10, 2018/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
“I should have known better.” Not only is that something that the two couples in Consenting Adults might well say to themselves by the ending, or even well before it. No, it’s also something I could say, having never seen the film before, but assuming this “sexy thriller” that hails from the era of Basic Instinct and numerous other such films might be more than a wannabe. What begins for two new neighboring couples as a somewhat compelling moral quandary that gives way to ominous bed-hopping quickly goes off the rails when it makes a sudden u-turn into a ridiculous murder set-up.
Richard (Kevin Kline) and Priscilla (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) begin the story as a relatively happy upwardly mobile married couple with a daughter, settled into their big bland suburban house. They make quick, close friends with their new next door neighbors, Eddy and Kay, played by Kevin Spacey and Rebecca Miller. This childless, confidant outgoing couple seems to have it all together. Before long, they’re all spending an inordinate amount of leisure time together.
It’s just a shame that the moral grappling and suffocating aspects of the McMansion life that Pakula seemed so interested in at the start had to be kicked aside for a series of forced twists and silly reveals, all culminating in an ending that signals creative surrender many scenes prior.
Trouble begins when Eddy, a self-proclaimed financial expert, makes a boastful offer to heal the large debt load that plagues Priscilla in particular. She clearly finds Eddy’s acumen with money, so lacking under her own roof, alluring. Across the room, Richard is taking a prolonged interest in the distractingly attractive Kay, bonding over their shared interest in musicianship. The sharp eyed Eddy sees this, and later proposes the question to Richard that if they were to switch beds in the dark of night and haze of sleep, what would the wives do? “Would they even know the difference?”, he asks.
Soon, this hypothetical plays out, though radically different than anyone imagined. That is, except for con man Eddy, who’s orchestrated this whole thing, friendship and all, as a means to frame Richard for (get this) murder!
And, that’s where Consenting Adults goes from being a consentingly dubious moral drama to being an out-and-out embarrassment. The killing for which Richard is framed is but the first major offense in the unfraying of what had been an otherwise passable overly glossy early 1990’s sexy thriller. It doesn’t help that Spacey’s character is played up as downright devilish; his house done up in flaming red and cherry wood that quite easily takes on a “flaming” look. Even the panes of glass above the front door outside number three rows of six, i.e., triple six. (Fun fact: From inside the house, that same bank of windows numbers two rows of five. If I’m busy noticing that background detail on my first viewing, this movie’s got bigger problems).
Consenting Adults is notable for being one of the final films directed by the late Alan J. Pakula, known for such respected work as All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice, and Klute. It’s evidence, then, that even quality filmmakers can make duds. It’s just a shame that the moral grappling and suffocating aspects of the McMansion life that Pakula seemed so interested in at the start had to be kicked aside for a series of forced twists and silly reveals, all culminating in an ending that signals creative surrender many scenes prior.
Like someone else’s bad marriage failing before your eyes, there’s nothing you can do to save Consenting Adults from itself. Sure, the characters in this early nineties neo-Noir embroil themselves in poor decisions, but that’s no reason for the screenplay to do so.
Matthew Chapman, the film’s screenwriter who’s no stranger to the ridiculous potboiler (Color of Night, Runaway Jury), provides a new audio commentary track on the disc. He provides interesting tidbits here and there, but to call the track sparse would be an understatement. It is the only bonus material that sets this recent Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray release apart from the previously released Mill Creek Blu-ray. I can’t speak to the A/V quality of that earlier version, but this one certainly gets the job done.
Two rights may not make a wrong, but two Kevins do. And if the former portion of that sentence sounds lopsided, consider it all the more in keeping with the creative impulse at work in Consenting Adults– one of pinching strain and creatives that should’ve known better.