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Movie Review: Dan Zak on Beyoncé's Thriller "Obsessed"

"Obsessed" concerns a happily married man (Idris Elba) and a psycho stalker (Ali Larter). (By Suzanne Tenner)
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By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 25, 2009

Beyoncé fans should enter the theater about 95 minutes after "Obsessed" begins. That way, they won't have to wait to see her morph into Sasha Fierce and wipe the floor with the crazy stalker chick who's after her husband. For most of this story of marital strife, everyone's favorite (sober) pop star plays a docile, doe-eyed, slightly wooden housewife. Only when her character, Sharon, senses infidelity does Beyoncé adapt her dance moves to hand-to-hand combat, setting the stage for a demolition-derby catfight with the Other Woman.

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Drywall is pulverized. Chandeliers are swung from. Lamp stands become javelins.

"Oh, no she didn't!"

Ah, the joys of watching a movie like "Obsessed" at a public showing on a Friday afternoon at the Regal Gallery Place multiplex. If ever a movie deserves to be talked back to, it's this one.

The first two-thirds of the film is written and acted with some degree of sanity. Idris Elba plays a French-cuffed big shot named Derek who works at a Los Angeles financial firm. Sharon stays at home with their infant son and yearns to finish her college degree. The happy couple just bought a fancy house (and an entire Pier One showroom to go with it, it seems) somewhere in the hills. At work, Derek's secretary gets the flu and is replaced by a temp -- no, make that a temptress.

Her name's Lisa. She's got blond hair, big teeth, slinky silk blouses and curves on which one might vigorously test the handling of a Lamborghini.

Lisa likes Derek and begins to make sexual advances. Derek, a good man who loves his wife, keeps his distance, but Lisa ingratiates herself with the psychotic efficiency of an experienced administrative assistant, knowing exactly what her boss will do and when he'll do it, what he wants and what he fears, and how he likes his coffee.

The situation devolves from there. "Sexual harassment" is too mild a term. Lisa, hellbent, creates an appearance of infidelity by spreading gossip, dragging a resistant Derek into a men's-room stall during the office Christmas party, and hiding in his Mercedes-Benz while wearing a nightie.

"She did WHAT?"

Why doesn't Derek fire Lisa after things go haywire? Because he has a reputation around the office for having romanced his underlings. Sharon, after all, used to be his secretary (he liked it, so he put a ring on it). Who's to say he's not just bedding the next woman in the executive-liaison line? It's his word against hers.

As far as the crazy- stalker-chick genre goes, "Obsessed" isn't horrible. It's just intensely simple-minded. It boils down the genre -- like rabbit on a stovetop -- to its essence. Unlike "Fatal Attraction," there is no actual extramarital affair. Unlike "Basic Instinct," there is no mystery to be solved. There is only a crazy stalker chick.

As Lisa, Ali Larter (of "Heroes") isn't as seductive as Sharon Stone or as terrifying as a crimp-haired Glenn Close, but she gets the job done. Larter uses a flick of her eyes to jump between stone-cold rage and whimpering sycophant. Elba (of "The Wire" and "The Office") has the tough role, the good guy who sinks deeper the more he struggles, and his restraint makes "Obsessed" occasionally believable.

Before the film clicks into autopilot for the standard descent into outrageousness, the script is sensible and the characters are human. Credit writer David Loughery, who put his talent for spinning psychodramas to better use in last year's smart thriller "Lakeview Terrace."

As for Beyoncé, she cannot act. Neither can Sasha Fierce, even when she's throwing punch after punch at the woman who did her wrong.

"This is some crazy [expletive]!"

Obsessed (105 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual material and violence.


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