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‘Consenting Adults’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 16, 1992


Alan J. Pakula
Kevin Kline;
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio;
Kevin Spacey;
Rebecca Miller;
E.G. Marshall;
Forest Whitaker
sensuality and adult situations

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It all seemed so innocent, so harmless, just like that little tryst Michael Douglas had with Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction." Or the hiring of Rebecca De Mornay as a nanny in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle." We're all adults. Right? We're all normal? Right?


When Richard (Kevin Kline) and Priscilla (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) meet their new neighbors, Eddy (Kevin Spacey) and Kay (Rebecca Miller), in the boneheaded new thriller "Consenting Adults," sure, maybe Eddy seems a little odd. But then, maybe he's just a little eccentric, or a free spirit. Whatever it is, he certainly seems happier and less repressed than the neuralgic yuppie couple next door. And, boy, is his wife a looker.

This fact is not lost on Richard, who eyeballs the honey blonde as if she were the dessert cart at Spago's. Nor does Eddy fail to notice that Richard's libido gets on its pogo stick every time Ms. Tastee-Freez sidles into the room. In fact, a sort of mutual titillation society develops between the two couples, with Eddy and Priscilla engaging in some of the same flirty patty-cake as their other halves.

The director, Alan J. Pakula ("Presumed Innocent" and "All the President's Men"), flawlessly executes this seductive opening act. As the couples spend an increasing amount of time together -- sailing, biking, playing touch football -- the air becomes thick with erotic insinuations. It's tremendous fun watching the subtle ways in which the characters express desires that are not entirely conscious, even to themselves. It's like watching a seduction that can't speak its own name.

Then Eddy speaks up. What if, he says casually to Richard, we just change places in bed with each other one night. You know, you slip into bed with my wife and I'll slip into bed with yours. The wives will be sleeping, and we'll make love to them, and they'll probably never know the difference. And if they do, well, we know they pretty much want it anyway, so the worst thing that can happen is that we'll be sent home with our wrists slapped. Come on, pal, you know you want to.

It's true; Richard does want to sleep with Kay. Plus, he's even being accused by his wife of being a stick-in-the-mud, afraid of taking chances and really living. Maybe he should do what Eddy says and shake things up a little. And maybe the women wouldn't know the difference. Maybe he should roll the dice and see what happens.

It's when the husbands decide to go ahead with their plan that Richard's life -- and the movie too -- goes to hell. Up to that point, Matthew Chapman's script had been immaculately intelligent. He created a potent situation among these four (well, three) rather average upper-middle-class married people, and with tremendous care and skill, developed it into a beautiful trap. But the second half of the film -- that is, everything after the dubious wife-swapping -- is as mindless and sloppy as the first half is sharp.

To even stick a toe into a plot description here would give too much away, but the main thrust of the action is that Eddy is a nut case. And no one makes for a better nut case than Kevin Spacey. In both television and movie roles, he has flitted around the edges of stardom for years, doing marvelously peculiar turns that more often than not steal the thunder of the bigger-name performers. And, as Eddy, he is given his first real opportunity to fully express his fruitcake talent.

He doesn't disappoint -- though, ultimately, he does outclass the movie and his costars. Kline, who has proved himself to be an expert comedian, hasn't seemed this pallid and forgettable since "Sophie's Choice." Though the movie focuses on Richard and the repercussions of his indiscretion, Kline only manages to seem dumbstruck; his only reaction is, like, "Duh?" As Priscilla, Mastrantonio looks pinched and artificial. (Her rarefied, porcelain beauty sometimes works against her when she plays so-called "normal" people.) And Miller, who shimmers through the movie as if all the bones in her body had been surgically removed, comes dangerously close to parody in her portrayal of a lost beauty; she's the ultimate sad-eyed lady of the lowlands.

In the end, it's the lusty, Mad Hatter gleam in Spacey's eyes that sticks with us. Even when the movie asks us to suspend our disbelief far beyond what is reasonable, he deliciously spins his web. In a just universe, his name should become a household word.

"Consenting Adults" is rated R for sensuality and adult situations.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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