By Joe Hammerschmidt
With the first of the big summer blockbusters ready to strike upon moviegoers, it’s not that difficult to notice, or maybe not notice the likely duds revolving close to it which audiences will mostly have no clue what this reviewer is talking about. Alas, Unforgettable automatically buries itself into that field of infamy within the first twenty minutes, only on account of a cookie-cutter plot helmed by a first-time director with plenty of Hollywood experience. Long-time Burton collaborator Denise Di Novi helms her first feature, yet the vehicle isn’t all that special, despite a pair of stellar leading performances. The engine runs well for a “good bad movie”, yet the undercarriage could use plenty of repair work.
Fresh off a successful career stint in San Francisco, barely going into enough detail in the opening scenes, newly engaged Julia (Rosario Dawson) makes the big move into an LA neighborhood to be with her loving fiancee, self-starting liquor connoisseur David (Geoff Stults). However, David’s ex Tessa (Katherine Heigl, pulling off a complete Stepford Wife motif with just the well-brushed hair) is still struggling to come to terms with the divorce. That bitterness, which Heigl heightens to a full Nth degree manifests into carefully placed overprotection towards their daughter Lily (Isabella Rice), who she still has consistent contact with per visitation rights, and is used as a counteract for Tessa’s jealousy, blackmailing her via social media, even attempting to frame her for suburban crime. And what’s worse? The new wife carries her own cross of secrets when her own evil ex Michael (Simon Kassianides) comes a-calling to try and make amends, but only contributes to the generic web of deceit and sadism.
The primary conflict, which appears simple enough on the surface through Christina Hodson’s screenplay, is between the two leads, fighting with each other almost consistently to determine who could possibly be the most crazy. At a point, this becomes overly exhausting Di Novi is far too keen on guide the film off-track at points, making the war a trifle pointless. Perhaps if it had been more of a three-way duel, potentially allocating deserved additional screen time for Tessa’s unwavering mother (Cheryl Ladd), Di Novi could’ve incorporated far more flexibility with a rather limited script.
Yet with an expected shortfall, and the fear of falling into the trap of generic psych thriller cliches, “Unforgettable” finds enough in its tank to create a series of twists and surprises even I couldn’t have possible found any sense in. The payoff is satisfying, though the buildup appears ridiculous. It’s almost as if at times Dawson and Heigl were notable overacting to appease Di Novi’s vision, unclear as it already was. Simply not rooted in reality as it ought to have been, the end result strives for legitimacy, with any possible shroud having been left on the cutting room floor.
Still, the camaraderie shared between Dawson and Heigl is palpable, with an almost Fatal Attraction-like quality throughout. With a different director at the helm; one can only imagine how different this journey could’ve been had Arma Assante (Belle) stayed attached to the project, there would’ve been far more to willingly absorb into memory. What I did recieve with Unforgettable will have been anything but. In no good conscience should you waste any mental effort in making sense of a moral-less trifle, that’s rather worth waiting for its eventual HBO debut, if only for Heigl going against her career genre safety net in brilliant, otherwise please save your brain for a cinematic experience actually worth talking about to your grandkids in the future. (D+)
Unforgettable opens Friday at most area theaters; rated R for sexual content, violence, some language and brief partial nudity; 100 minutes.