by Ben Beard
Women on Top, sort of…
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Starting with an awkward gunfight/failed heist with only a thin, tenuous connection to the actual story, Simple Revenge, a low budget, television-style production, quickly moves to the exploits of its home-wrecking queen bitch, plot catalyst, and amoral center, Alex.
A corporate climber and ambitious, pale-skinned social carnivore, Alex loses the top promotion in her company to the slightly frumpy but equally driven inner-office rival Ann. The insult sends Alex into manipulation overdrive, wherein Alex seduces Ann’s husband Jim and alters business projections to maneuver past Ann and ruin her life.
Jim, Ann’s sensitive husband, proves too easy to seduce. A little wine and a little soft lighting and he succumbs to Alex’s advances. The smiley seduction scene—a chatty affair pulled from a thousand straight to video releases—ends with Jim’s emasculation and the next phase in Alex’s plan.
Inevitably, Alex’s machinations lead to murder, something at which she proves very adept. Two touch-talking cops are assigned the case, and the cat and mouse games begin, involving lawsuits, blackmail, lesbians, and S&M bedroom antics.
If all of this sounds interesting, it isn’t. The office setting, a rich, always evolving mine of stories, is quickly jettisoned for the simpler politics of the police precinct and the sterile conventions of pseudo-eroticism. In fact, much of Simple Revenge watches like a less risqué version of Showtime’s softcore late night show, Red Shoe Diaries: smooth bad jazz, soft smiles, weak acting, and the occasional glimpse of a breast. The inane procedural details bog down whatever momentum the movie had. As the wheels of justice turn, the movie turns way too long.
And why, in movies, are normal people such accomplished killers? Good thrillers (Blood Simple, for instance) revel in the guilt and remorse and shaky paranoia, while mediocre films offer cookie cutter characters with no moral qualities, no compunctions, no looking back. Good thrillers provide chaos; good thrillers provide titillation; good thrillers feint and parry and trick the audience into a morally ambiguous universe. Where’s the suspense? Simple Revenge watches like determinism made celluloid; there are no surprises.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in the movie is the (anti?) feminist slant. Here is a world where women rule. The men in the film are fat, foolish, weak, or downright incompetent. In Simple Revenge’s world, men sleep on the job, run late, cheat on their wives, and generally pretend to run things while their wives and girlfriends sit in the saddle. Of course, the main female character—strong in a way—mostly comes off as a man-eating Lady Macbeth with no Macbeth to pour her ambitions into. Female-empowerment story or a cautionary chauvinist tale?
Who cares. Low budget films only succeed by the strengths of their unique visions or razor sharp scripts. Simple Revenge has neither.
Available from MTI Home Video.
Ben Beard is a film and music critic living in Chicago.
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