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Masquerade (DVD)

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Genre: Action & Adventure / Theatrical Release: 1988 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Bob Swaim / Actors: Rob Lowe, Kim Cattrall, Meg Tilly ... / DVD released 2005-05-23 at MGM Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, Dubbed, PAL, Widescreen

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    1 Review
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      04.05.2010 20:17
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      Dodgy 80s drivel

      This is a review of the DVD presentation, although (as noted later) there are no real special features to speak of.

      When wealthy heiress Olivia Lawrence is introduced to a local man named Tim Whalen she is at once smitten. Not only is Whalen an expert sailor, he also happens to be young, handsome and the perfect gentleman. It's not long before she is head over heels in love and, in spite of warnings from her friends and associates, considering marriage.

      Unable to force her revolting stepfather out of the family home, Olivia relishes the opportunity to spend a weekend alone with Tim when her stepfather has to go away for the weekend. In the middle of the night, her stepfather interrupts Tim and Olivia, and a fight ensues, with a tragic outcome. Believing that the police will think it murder, Tim and Olivia agree to pretend it was self-defence and claim that Olivia was alone that night. The local detective, Mike McGill, is a lifelong friend of Olivia's, but even he remains unconvinced that all is what it seems to be but even McGill is unprepared for what his investigation leads him to discover...

      There were a number of heartthrobs during the 1980s, which, looking back, now seem a bit cringeworthy. Amidst a see of mullets, deck shoes and bad trousers, few actors from the 1980s have retained their sexual allure but back then, they were serious devotees of countless adoring fans. One such actor was Rob Lowe. Having cut his acting teeth in the likes of St Elmo's Fire and alongside Patrick Swayze in Youngblood, Masquerade was Lowe's second major picture as a leading man and the film gained some notoriety as an 'erotic thriller'. Twenty-two years later, the film has, unsurprisingly, aged rather badly, but retains its intrinsic qualities, representing the excesses of the era with its depiction of greed and wealth amidst the community of The Hamptons, Long Island, New York.

      The film was written by Dick Wolf, who, shortly afterwards, went on to have enormous success with the TV franchise Law and Order, which, twenty years later is still going strong. Whilst the Law and Order series has dealt with a much wider range of hard-hitting crime series, it's easy to see the similarities between Wolf's different written materials. Masquerade feels like an extended TV episode and simply oozes TV movie production values. Despite the fact that it's supposed to be a tense, murderous thriller, it's all actually rather flat and with countless other films subsequently trying the same formula (and generally doing it better) it's difficult to find this as anything more than very average.

      It's a surprisingly obvious affair. People are revealed not to be what they seem at varying intervals in the narrative, some of them subsequently revealing another shift in motivations as if we will be astounded by it. It might just be the age of the film, but the bad guys seem to be almost entirely obvious, even if they are initially presented as good guys and the same applies to the real good guys. It's a complete give away, and yet it's curiously easy to watch, even if that is simply because it feels like a museum piece. The plot doesn't particularly hold together very well and it's wise to suspend belief for the duration of the running time. Every sensible decision made by one of the leads is offset by a particularly stupid decision and the thing that finally gives the game away is patently ridiculous. That aside, the glorious 80s haircuts (now more subdued as the film originated at the end of the decade) and the completely hideous clothes are all rather amusing, even if the film isn't really supposed to be funny at all.

      Masquerade's erotic qualifications leave a little to be desired and it's only 'erotic' in that terribly fake way that several films in the 80s suffered from. There are a couple of painfully awful sex scenes that don't even begin to convince us that either actor or actress are in any way enjoying themselves. It's often hard to appreciate the purpose of sticking erotic content into films like this and here it's a complete mistake. There is absolutely no chemistry between the two lead characters and the flashes of nudity are almost completely gratuitous. Film fan sites have for some time intimated that the film contains one or two scenes of slightly homoerotic nature, but if there are, then they're pretty well hidden. The story could have benefited from some slightly harder, less choreographed sexuality and aside from a couple of buttock and breast shots it just feels ridiculously tame. In fairness, there's quite a strong contrast between the sex scenes featuring Rob Lowe and Meg Tilly (lifeless, like something out of a bad period drama) and the ones between Rob Lowe and Kim Cattrall where there is rather more natural chemistry. But It's all still rather like an 80s power ballad music video, complete with wistful beach shots and a little bit of titillation.

      Indeed, most of the film's visual style is straight out of the era's MTV output. The director makes scant use of the unquestionably stunning landscape, with little more than a few glimpses of the beautiful coastline through the windows of Olivia's house. It seems utterly bizarre that a film set in the Hamptons, which features boating as a key part of the story has such unimaginative visuals, but this is all about close-ups on the eyes and mouths, rather than taking in the wonderful surroundings. Weirdly, a lot of the location filming is done at night and could be anywhere in the world and the sailing shots look a little like something of a resort promotional brochure; all tan, teeth and nicely-pressed boating shorts.

      It remains the case that, aside from the fact that he wears some exceptionally dodgy trousers, Rob Lowe was very beautiful. Although rather weedier than I had imagined, he has the most stunning eyes and it's not hard to see why he set so many hearts racing. In fairness, however, he's more of a visual treat than anything else, as he is strangely lacking in charisma here. It doesn't seem as though he really wants to be here at all, for starters, and he simply seems to be going through the motions. It doesn't help that he's paired up with such a lifeless, limp actress as Meg Tilly, who (as Olivia) has the most irritating, whiny, nasal voice and the personality to go with it. She's almost entirely unconvincing and it's pretty impossible to believe that a stud like Rob Lowe would even consider hooking up with her. Tilly overacts terribly, grossly exaggerating shock and surprise and then not really being to muster any kind of emotional energy for sadness or upset.

      Rob Lowe looks very young in the film (and in fairness, has aged very well) but the more striking presence in the film is that of a very young Kim Cattrall. It's certainly not her earliest performance (that dates back to the 1970s) but she's quite strikingly different from the woman we know in Sex and The City. Laughably, her character isn't that far removed (she's having an affair with Rob Lowe's character) but despite her limited screen time she has more get up and go than the rest of them. That includes Doug Savant, whose cop McGill is a tiresome little creation, for sure. Savant has had a long career since in television dramas and it's not hard to see why (he's relatively good looking) but in Masquerade he's particularly dull and lifeless.

      The film wasn't released in this region 2 format until 2005 and it wasn't exactly worth the wait. The sound and picture quality are both a little tired, particularly the former, for which no attempt to re-touch or re-master seems to have been made. Even the photography on the cover is poor and looks like it has been thrown together as an afterthought. The menu navigation is really irritating, managed via four symbols that simply take you backwards and forwards or let you skip to the subtitle options. The disc comes with no special features (unless you include being able to navigate by chapter) and it's a reasonably strong indictment of the film that they couldn't scrap together any additional material for the DVD. The only real saving grace is that it's unbelievably cheap - just £2.98 on www.amazon.co.uk.

      I would have thought that some ideas for extras could have included deleted scenes (the choppy editing indicates there were quite a few) and maybe something about the Hamptons (the film's location). Darn it - just a gallery of Rob Lowe photography would be better than nothing!

      There isn't much that would make you hold this up as a classic (indeed, the Daily Mail review highlighted on the cover that says "a reminder of how good real thrillers can be" is a little over-optimistic. For its age and the time of its release, it's a perfectly average little film that is mercifully short and doesn't have ideas above its station. But whilst Rob Lowe is unquestionably lovely, the film's reputation as a notable erotic thriller is thoroughly undeserved. Meg Tilly may have been subsequently nominated for an Academy Award, but here she all but sinks the entire production and it's a real shame that the makers couldn't use more of the beautiful location. This is one for an otherwise uneventful afternoon and I can't imagine that anyone would be in a tearing hurry to watch it twice - or once for that matter.

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