Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Lured Innocence: Special Edition (1999)
Studio Line: Artisan - Deceptive Passion...Malicious Seduction.

When small-town beauty Elsie Townsend (Marley Shelton: Never Been Kissed, Pleasantville) meets older, married man Rick Chambers (Dennis Hopper: EdTV, Speed, Waterworld), they begin a secret erotic affair. Rick's attraction to Elsie quickly gives way to obsession when his ailing wife (Talia Shire: Rocky 1-4, Deadfall) threatens to come between them and he concocts a murderous plan. But Elsie has a plan of her own.

Director: Kikuo Kawasaki
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, Marley Shelton, Devon Gummersall
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 20 chapters; rated R; 97 min.; $29.98; street date 2/15/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary Track with Director Kikuo Kawasaki; Biographies of Cast and Filmmaker; Trailer.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C+/C+/C

Although I'm sure there are other film genres that have been done to death even more than sexy thrillers, it's hard to think of any right now. Perhaps that's because I just sat through Lured Innocence, a very blah entry in the field that reminded me about what's wrong with the form.

Here's lesson number one to anyone who cares to make this kind of film: unless you have an absolutely killer story, cast or gimmick, make sure you show some skin! There's nothing worse than the tease of a lovely young lady - in this case, Marley Shelton - who never bares anything. At least the cheesy junk that shows up late night on cable is smart enough to get this right.

Since LI never earns its "R"-rating via nudity, that leaves the possibility of some scary violence, right? Not in this case. I don't want to reveal the nature of the crime that occurs, but there is a murder, and it's a distinctly non-violent one. In fact, it's about as tepid a death as you'll find in a thriller, which seems in keeping with the bland nature of this film.

No, I don't think that a movie has to include graphic nudity or bloody killings to be interesting, but those tend to be important facets of this genre, and their lack of inclusion renders the final product rather flat. As I mentioned, a movie can get away without anything really showy if it has something else going for it: strong performances, interesting characters, a taut plot, crackling dialogue. None of those are on display in LI. Shelton is probably the best part of the film, as she's quite sexy and seems believably in charge during her more aggressive scenes. However, she's hampered with a terribly fake southern accent that belongs in a summer stock version of A Streetcar Named Desire; her cheesy vocals nearly ruin her performance.

Dennis Hopper has little to do in his part, though he adds a little charge to the proceedings, and Devon Gummersall - best known (to me, at least) as the kid who's nice to Randy Quaid's daughter in Independence Day - makes for an exceptionally bland lead character; the kid's a walking loaf of white bread with virtually no charisma or personality. Talia Shire gasps and wheezes her way through her part as Hopper's ailing wife and also contributes little to the affair.

The story of romantic entanglement is awfully tired, and nothing in director/writer Kikuo Kawasaki's treatment of the material brings it to life. The plot progresses at a turgid pace, and the dialogue seems stiff and unconvincing. Put simply, Lured Innocence is a really dull film that never came close to engaging or entertaining me.

The DVD:

Lured Innocence appears an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The back of the DVD's case states that the movie has been "formatted from its original version to fit your screen", and while some open-matte transfers include that disclaimer, I'm pretty sure LI is a pan and scan job. I noticed little obvious headroom at the top of the screen, and the sides made the picture seem uncomfortably tight. Why this film wasn't presented in a letterboxed edition, I don't know, but I didn't care for the framing of this fullscreen version.

That oversight would be more easily forgiven if the quality of this image was stronger, but it seems pretty mediocre. Sharpness usually appears adequately well-defined, but the picture can also look rather flat and hazy at times. I noticed no examples of jagged edges or moiré effects. Print flaws included some light grain plus occasional speckles, nicks and grit; these aren't extreme, but they pop up periodically.

Colors seem generally accurate but sometimes tend toward murkiness, particularly in lower light situations. Black levels are also fairly bland and drab, and shadow detail seems similarly hazy and flat, with some overly-opaque images at times. LI remains watchable throughout the film, but it usually appeared rather dull.

Also largely lifeless is the movie's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It features a rather undistinguished soundfield which does little to broaden the spectrum. The forward channels stick pretty closely to the center, and when the imagery spreads to the sides, it does so inconsistently. For example, the mix often presents echoing footsteps, but the location of the source seems uncertain; the sound flails about in the channels so that it's tough to draw a bead on the intended placement. Not all of the track does this, and some effective localizing occurs, but not much. The surrounds do little more than gently reinforce the front speakers, with little activity.

Quality seems decent but similarly unspectacular. Dialogue occasionally sounded brittle but it usually appeared fairly natural and distinct. Effects were somewhat dull and bland; even during a thunderstorm - usually a standout feature for audio mixes - the texture never appeared very crisp or bold, though the sound remained acceptably true. The music probably functions the best; it seemed a little flat at times, but it displayed some decent range, with fairly good low end. Ultimately, the soundtrack is very average, with little to offer.

Finally, we get a few extras. Most significant is an audio commentary from director/writer Kikuo Kawasaki, but unfortunately, it's no more interesting than the film it describes. First of all, there are lots of gaps here. Typically, Kawasaki will utter a sentence or two than go mum for a while; lather, rinse, repeat through the end of the track. Okay, it's not quite as barren as I describe, but it's not far from that point; the piece contains an awful lot of dead air.

Those breaks might be more tolerable if Kawasaki offered many details of interest, but he doesn't. Most of his comments relate to the locations or blandly discuss the cast. Every once in a while he hits something mildly juicy, such as when he argued with Hopper or made Shelton cry, but these moments are few. Ultimately, the commentary lacks much merit.

In addition, we get a trailer and a TV spot - both of which are very similar - and some fairly good cast and crew biographies. The latter cover eight of the actors and four of the crew and provide greater than usual depth. They aren't terrific, but they do seem above average and worth a look.

Unfortunately, as a movie, Lured Innocence does little to distinguish itself. The film is just another mediocre attempt at a sex thriller; everything about it seemed completely ordinary and it lacks much to interest the viewer. The DVD itself appeared equally bland and average, with decent but flat picture, sound and extras. I have to recommend that you skip this one.

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