A Midnight Movie That Takes Itself Seriously Indeed

Amanda Seyfried

hide captionThe Danger Zone: Amanda Seyfried plays the title character in Chloe — an escort who's drawn into a family drama involving a straying husband and a jealous wife.

Sony Classics

Chloe

  • Director: Atom Egoyan
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 96 min
Rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language.

With: Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried

The movies are full of stupid ideas: Spending the night in that mysterious count's castle. Having a late-night party at the isolated lake where those teens were hacked to death last summer.

Chloe offers up a new one, and it's really dumb: Hire a call girl to test your husband's fidelity.

The premise of this trashy yet oh-so-serious tease comes from Nathalie, a 2003 French film, and perhaps the dialogue would seem more plausible in a romance language. Yet relocating the action to North America is only the first of director Atom (The Sweet Hereafter) Egoyan's miscalculations. He and scripter Erin Cressida Wilson have also added explicit sex — an attempt to "out-French the French," the director has said — and a conclusion so bleak that you have to laugh.

The movie is named for the hooker, played by Mamma Mia! bride Amanda Seyfried. But the actual central character is Catherine, a Toronto gynecologist with an office in a trendy downtown neighborhood. She worries that the fire is gone from her marriage and that she's no longer attractive. The latter concern isn't especially credible, since Catherine is played by Julianne Moore — even if the actress does seem to have cut back on the makeup for this role.

Catherine's husband is David (Liam Neeson), a music professor who flies to New York regularly to teach a class. David flirts openly with his pretty young students, and Catherine fears that his attention to some of them goes beyond playful banter.

A few vignettes are meant to show that Catherine is conflicted about sex: She downplays orgasms to a patient who rarely experiences them, and freaks when she learns that her teenage son's girlfriend regularly spends the night. (Then again, wouldn't most parents object to opposite-sex teenage sleepovers?)

When David misses the flight that would have carried him to his surprise birthday party, Catherine suspects that he lingered in New York with one of his more nubile students. So after encountering Chloe in the ladies' room of an upscale restaurant — pretty much everything in this movie is upscale — Catherine decides to employ her.

Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore i i

hide captionStormy Weather: Julianne Moore plays a tormented woman who hires Seyfried's character to test her husband's fidelity; Liam Neeson is the unsuspecting — if not entirely unwilling — target of her scheme.

Sony Picture Classics
Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore

Stormy Weather: Julianne Moore plays a tormented woman who hires Seyfried's character to test her husband's fidelity; Liam Neeson is the unsuspecting — if not entirely unwilling — target of her scheme.

Sony Picture Classics

Chloe's initial assignment is just to sit in a cafe David frequents, and see if he approaches her. Later, the hooker reports that David did chat her up, and then her dispatches become steamier, detailing midday trysts in hotel rooms. Catherine, upset by the news of her husband's unfaithfulness, is nonetheless clearly aroused by the call girl's second-by-second accounts of sex with David. These monologues are like phone sex without the phone, and sure enough, Chloe and Catherine are soon in bed together.

Many more preposterous things happen in Chloe, but the summary ends here, so that viewers can discover the absurdities for themselves. Call me after you see the movie, and we can share a few chuckles at what happens in the final half-hour.

Chloe is that rare Egoyan movie that the filmmaker didn't write himself, but it does hit many of his usual notes: sexual intrigue, an estranged family, the role of modern technology in both connecting and alienating its users. Yet finding the inner Egoyan in Chloe's lurid scenario probably wasn't the most fruitful approach; emphasizing the script's farcical elements might have worked better, since taking the thing seriously is pretty much impossible.

Egoyan gets fine performances from his cast, and he sets the tale in a tasteful demimonde of elegant architectural lines and pristine classical music. But c'mon! Erotic obsession, catfights, naked chicks making out — at heart Chloe is a midnight movie, and all the Vivaldi in the world can't change that.

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