Part film noir, part unintentional B-movie parody, Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe” is a weirdly compelling expansion of the themes permeating the director’s work. Marred by an uneven screenplay, numerous implausibility issues and oddly dry, moody performances, it nevertheless maintains a basic guilty pleasure charm.
Julianne Moore plays Catherine, a Toronto-based gynecologist whose husband, David, (Liam Neeson) spends so much time away from home that she begins to suspect he’s sleeping around. On a whim, she hires nubile hooker Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce David and test his fidelity. Although this recalls the basic premise of Mike Judge’s “Extract,” the tone in “Chloe” aims less for outright humor than a dark progression of uneasy tones. Touted as a change of pace for Egoyan, it plays more like a weird pulp version of his other movies. As the titular character obsesses over Catherine’s life, setting her eyes beyond David and onto the couple’s rebellious teenage son, Michael (Max Thierot), the movie veers into film noir when its main heroine takes on a femme fatale mystique.
Egoyan has a tendency to overstate minor dramatic situations with strangely temperamental music cues and weighty delivery. Intentionally or not — probably intentionally, at least some of the time — “Chloe” takes this into the realm of parody with erotic scenes in which the girl describes her liaisons with David to Catherine in full erotic detail. The character motives are generally hit-or-miss. Sometimes, you want to yell at the screen when a particular action or line of dialogue makes Catherine or Chloe sound utterly two-dimensional, but what doesn’t work about these moments also serves to make the movie such an entertaining trifle. Moore and Seyfried get naked at the expense of the underlying seriousness of the plot, but their incredulous bedroom scene will most likely become the central moment that most audiences will remember.
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However, “Chloe” is no “Basic Instinct.” The movie’s tedious soundrack, uneven delivery and confusing rhythm deny audiences from settling into its twisted story. At the same time, the flaws are integral to the plot. While Seyfried, Moore and Neeson give themselves over to the material, it denies them the ability to generate believable chemistry together. They’re talents shrink under the reality that “Chloe” is basically a black quasi-comedy that lost its way. As far as that goes, Egoyan inadvertently succeeds.