For a film that promises to be a "riveting erotic thriller," Fascination isn't riveting, it's not all that erotic, and to call it a thriller would even make Michael Jackson cringe.

James Plath's picture

What do directors of low-budget "erotic" films have in common with men who suddenly start wearing white belts and shoes after they reach a certain age? Call it fashion tone-deafness.

The film can be going along at a normal, even fashionable clip, when suddenly, just to signal arousal or pre-arousal, it's cue the porno music. I've seen it many times, and it happens again in "Fascination." When, for example, the female love-sex interest steps sprightly into the peripheral vision of her young male counterpart, we get this cheesy Jonny Bull music as she does a model's self-conscious 360 and continues to playfully walk while he sidles up next to her and the flirtatious talk begins. It gets even worse when the two get lip-lock later in the film. Forget that Klaus Menzel is a newcomer behind the camera. Stuff like this seems to be characteristic of the genre. It's even common for any emotional moment, as if the audience couldn't tell on their own that a son looking at the photo of his recently drowned father would be feeling choked up inside.

Another predictable constant in these films that promise erotica with an "R" rating for strong sexuality is that there will be one "money" shot somewhere near the two-thirds mark, a shot where you finally get to see the nudity that earned the film it's rating. The problem with films like this is that so much attention is paid to building toward this erotic moment that the rest of the plot is left to fend for itself.

One problem is that, for all the music used to artificially induce emotion, if you tracked the emotional arc of the film you'd pretty much have a line that, were it on a hospital heart monitor, would prompt a shout of "Code Blue!" The mind-numbing stuff all starts when we see an obviously estranged wife (Jacqueline Bisset) watching her husband live his life barely acknowledging her. As he swims out to his beloved island off the coast of their Florida home, it turns out that it's the last we see of him. Drowned, despite being a silver medalist in the 1964 Olympics.

Six weeks later, Mom is stepping off the gangplank of a cruise ship with a man in tow, the rather British Oliver Vance (Stuart Wilson). What about Dad?, the son (Adam Garcia) wants to know. "We were in love once, but not for a long time now. I was desperately unhappy." On the evening of her announcement that they're actually going to marry, the son swims off at dark to the island, rough seas and all. This, of course, shows that he's upset by his mother's behavior (though he could just as well have been bothered by bad dialogue) and reinforces for the audience that if the softie of a son could swim in this sort of weather (he's a composer), then by golly it must have been foul play. Oh, and Dad's not the sweetheart that his son believed. It turns out that he has a skeleton in his water closet, so to speak—his own Chappaquiddick.

In this slow-moving film, coincidence is substituted for plot complications, and everyone seems to be a willing accomplice. The chick that son Scott checks out and hooks up with just happens to be his new stepsister, Kelly (Alice Evans), and boy do these two have a lot in common. Her mother died and her father moved in with someone less than six months later, but in this muddle she reassures Scott, "I had a very good reason to suspect my father. You have no reason to suspect your mother." Whatever.

As stepbrother and stepsister continue to get closer and explore their sexuality in "Blue Lagoon" fashion in the strangest of places, we're supposed to get closer to the truth about what happened to Scott's father . . . and Kelly's mother. But most viewers will get the plot twists long before the reveals.

Add to the predictability of plot a soap-opera tone and style of acting (it's not the actors' fault, by the way—it's a script and direction problem) and you get a film that's not even close to being as fascinating as the title promises. Aside from watching veteran Bisset, the most enjoyable part of this film is soaking up the gorgeous Puerto Rican location photography.

Video: The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio), and the stock and transfer are such that the film is all but free of imperfection. There's but a slight graininess in low- and bright-light situations, though the color is consistently rich and bright, with suitable contrasts and delineation in night and shadow scenes.

Audio: The sound is English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles. As with the picture, the quality is very good, with the filmmakers mixing dialogue and the sounds of surf in a way that makes it all seem natural—though of course the voices come through with more clarity and fullness than they would in real life.

Extras: The bonus features are fairly skimpy, but what's to say? This isn't exactly an art-house classic. A "making of" featurette runs just 11 minutes or so and is really a promo where each of the principles takes turns talking "about" the moving in such a way as to not reveal too much of the plot (as if that were possible). Not much in the way of insights or behind-the-scenes information here except for the information that it was filmed in Puerto Rico, something that you could have gleaned, with patience, in the end credits. Another feature isn't much better. "From Page to Screen" has one nifty moment in it when we see how a stunt driver pulled off a roll, and we're told that 739 drawings were needed for the composite storyboard while it took six weeks to film the production. That's basically it. Then there's the obligatory previews and two TV promos for the film, and an alternate ending that's as boring as any moment in the film.

Bottom Line: "Fascination"? I think not. "Boredom," maybe. For a film that promises to be a "riveting erotic thriller," "Fascination" isn't riveting, it's not all that erotic, and to call it a thriller would even make Michael Jackson cringe.


Film Value