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Deadly Little Secrets
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by Chris Parry

"When you bring in Craig Sheffer as your lead, you're off to a bad start."
3 stars

One of the great things about this website is that we'll watch and review any movie we see. Late night cable TV, straight to video crap, festival flicks, documentaries, shorts, and Hollywood blockbusters - there's nothing we turn away from. What this means is that we often find ourselves in a position where we're looking at a flick that defies standard categorization. Should we compare a straight-to-video flick with an Oscar nominee, or should we try to reward a movie that, as far as straight-to-video flicks goes, is not bad at all? Whatever the answer, Deadly Little Secrets, as far as bad flicks goes, is pretty good. But it could have been so much better.

Problem number one with Deadly Little Secrets is that it tries to be a lot more complex than a movie of this standard needs to be. If Memento had starred the Wayans Brothers, it wouldn't have kept audiences paying attention long enough to keep up with the plot twists, and Deadly Little Secrets could pretty much be summed up as a cable-ready movie that would one day like to grow up into something complex and moody and opening on 500 screens. Nothing wrong with a little ambition, but if you want to make a confusing arty thriller, perhaps casting Craig Sheffer as your lynchpin isn't the best way to go about it.

Sheffer is one of those guys that will turn up for any movie at all, no matter how bad the script, just as long as you can fork out a couple of grand and airfare. The guy was once a decent actor, having appeared in movies such as Some Kind of Wonderful and A River Runs Through It, and he even executive-produced Demolition Man, but in the last decade or so he's been the guy you go to when you want to cast a film like Hellraiser: Inferno or Flying Virus. In Deadly Little Secrets, Sheffer plays a doctor who makes a profitable sideline in selling steroids and the like to athletes. Or at least he once did, before he turned into a serial killer of jocks. His weapon of choice - the syringe.

But why is he killing? That's a good question, and after seeing the flick I can't say I'm any more clued in than you are. He seems to want Dina Meyer to sleep with him again, she having sletp with him and Michele Hicks previously when they all worked together, but Dina's now humping Dylan Walsh, so she has no time for a guy with a bad haircut who likes to stab linemen in the throat with the hypodermic.

Dina Meyer's presence in this film is even more confusing than Sheffer's because as she shows in this film, she really can act. She's not a marquee name by any stretch, but she's well-known enough that her agent should be able to get her into flicks that rise above this level.

By 'this level', I'm talking about straight-to-video level, because there can be no denying that not only is this straight-to-video fare, that surely must have been the intention when the film was cast. The script ignores reality and goes for cheap thrills. The bad guy is right out of the Cinemax Bad Guy Handbook. The good guy (Dylan Walsh) has all the personality of vanilla soy-gurt. And the nudity... there's plenty of it, yet you see none of it.

I've watched more films of this type in the last few years than surely any man alive (and sane), and I feel completely qualified to admit that, as far as these films go, this one is above the pack. It has all the usual stuff you see in a film of this genre - pretty women who take off their clothes, a pretty good guy who isn't asked to emote, and the bad guy who could just as easily been played by Corey Feldman as Michael Rooker.

But - and this is important - it doesn't stink. Meyer comes across like a New York Yankees second baseman who has suited up to play for Podunk High School. She's genuinely good at what she does, but watching her recite some of these awful lines opposite people who confuse hamming it up with acting is just painful. Meyer has every bit as much talent as 90% of the people who get paid a million bucks to make an awful Hollywood comedy, and she's very pleasant to look at, but she needs to fire her agent immediately if she doesn't want to end up in Hot Dog 2: The Movie. Perhaps when she signed on she thought she was getting into an Ashley Judd/Morgan Freeman movie, but as soon as the rest of the cast signed on she should have feigned a pulled hamstring and taken a powder.

Sheffer is a conundrum, because you know he's slumming it for only one reason - he's simply given up. Sheffer *can* act... he's just not been asked to for a long time.

The working title of the film was "Devil Wore a Skirt", which suggests to me that maybe this film changed a lot at the last moment because it has nothing to do with the final product. Was Meyer originally the 'bad guy' - a female doctor that seduces athletes and kills them? Hey, it's a little more Shannon Tweed than Shakespeare, but a plot that simple might have helped this cast and crew create a really good straight to video flick, instead of a confusing 'okay' one.

I could be totally harsh on a film like this and pick it apart from script to directing to cast to production values (I won't even get into some of the awful editing choices), but really that's shooting fish in a thimble. The flick isn't intended for Oscars - it's a titillation flick with a little flesh, a little action, and nothing to think about when it's done. On that level, it's great stuff. Just don't ask me how it compares to American Beauty.

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originally posted: 03/22/03 16:26:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2003 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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  11-Feb-2003 (R)



Directed by
  Fiona MacKenzie

Written by
  Tim Redman

  Dina Meyer
  Craig Sheffer
  Michele Hicks
  Dylan Walsh

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