From the Archive: Consenting Adults

Image clipped from an eBay listing.

This was written for The Pointer, the student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. When I look back at my clippings from that publication, I’m reminded of the remarkable number of times I penned reviews on films that the average twenty-year-old likely had zero interest in. I assume it was my attempt to speak to those college kids that caused me to reference the then-recent Presumed Innocent rather than Alan J. Pakula’s sterling nineteen-seventies film as demonstration of his established merit as a director. I’m inordinately pleased that sharing this review today means the phrase “Spacey’s ultimate game: wife-swapping” will now yield results on a Google search.

This release from Disney’s Hollywood Pictures division is meant to be the thinking person’s choice for shocks and thrills. Director Alan Pakula proved he can craft a smart whodunit with 1989’s Presumed Innocent, and star Kevin Kline has an Oscar on his shelf and an impressive list of performances on his resume. Yet Consenting Adults is a convoluted mess of a movie.

Kline has a bland, lifeless marriage to Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio that is given a jolt of energy when a fast-living couple moves in next door. The husband (Kevin Spacey) is a bold, arrogant twit who inexplicably forms a bond with Kline, and the men spend many of the movie’s early scenes engaging in some form of physical activity together: jogging, bicycling, and even boxing.

It turns our the competitions merely serve as prelude for Spacey’s ultimate game: wife-swapping. At first, Kline is revolted by the suggestion, but he can’t deny his attraction to Spacey’s wife (Rebecca Miller) and soon concedes to the idea. After his night of passion, Kline finds himself framed for murder, and the movie begins spinning out of control, with implausible plot twists and overly convenient clues at every turn.

Pakula’s direction is surprisingly choppy, sometimes maddeningly confusing. He seems to rush through the establishing scenes simply so he can drag out the mystery, pumping it full of overwrought bluster. The cast does the best that could be expected considering the horribly stilted dialogue (“When you deem me worthy,” Mastrantonio says at point, “would you tell me what happened between you two?”), though Spacey is so completely maniacal that’s it hard to believe Kline, or anyone, would fall for his scams.

Consenting Adults is one of those films that is so vacant of any shred of quality that it’s absolutely stunning to consider the talents it took to make a movie this bad.

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