High-class trash dolled up as art, Chloe is the sort of a lowbrow-highbrow fusion that might happen if John Cheever wrote for Penthouse forum. It's a would-be thriller, mired in the upper-middle-class guilt of miserable people living fabulous lives but still unhappy enough to seek release through tawdry fantasies.
These are the kind of folks who literally live in glass houses — in this case a modernist glass-walled yuppie cube in a fancy section of Toronto — where the wintry air mirrors the icy relationship status of David (Liam Neeson) and wife Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore). She's a doctor, and he's some sort of academic rock star, jet-setting the continent, from campus to campus, as nubile coeds hang on his every word.
Of course, all this gallivanting makes Stewart do the logical thing, and hire top-notch prostitute Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to catch David in the act. In the Bad Idea Hall of Fame, this ranks with New Coke and the Ford Edsel. Soon the plot unravels, but not how you'd expect. The reserved doc becomes aroused by Chloe's erotically charged stories about her hired encounters, and the two women become fatally attracted.
Before it devolves into a game of peek-a-boo shocks, Chloe is a fairly compelling drama, but as talented director Atom Egoyan cranks up the titillation he loses his touch with reality.
Moore excels at playing brittle, wounded characters — she's predictably good here — but in comparison her co-stars are a letdown. Neeson's phoning it in, getting by on his residual charisma, which is substantial. Seyfried (the eldest daughter on Big Love), however, with her round, expressive eyes, does her best to make sense of her goofy character's confused motivations, but it's too tough a challenge; you can't add menace to a girl who's all about puppy-dog sadness. This is bone-dry erotica that makes sex look simultaneously exciting and joyless, and it's also fairly weak in suspense, which is a downer from a director who knows his sex and danger.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.