Sunday, May 8, 2011

Trust Me, Art Has Nothing to Do With It: "The Art of Murder" (1999)

Suffering from a title that sounds like an old episode of "Murder, She Wrote," this typical straight-to-video erotic thriller is neither erotic nor thrilling, nor good.

Elizabeth (Joanna Pacula) is married to old drunk Cole (Michael Moriarty). Elizabeth is also boinking Cole's hunky younger business partner Tony (Boyd Kestner). Elizabeth also dabbles in painting, mostly anonymous seascapes of the surrounding Seattle set, Vancouver BC shot area. Willie (Peter Onorati) arrives on the scene with some photos of Tony and Elizabeth, er, opening each other's galleries, and blackmails the duo.

At the first payment drop, things go bad. Elizabeth ends up shooting Willie. Tony and Elizabeth hide Willie's body in the lake, but curiosity gets the better of our Liz. She goes to Willie's isolated cabin and finds more photos of herself. Concluding that Willie was obsessed with her, she burns the place to the ground! Tony finds out and rejects Elizabeth, both wanting to avoid prison for murder AND arson. To reconcile, Cole promises to quit drinking, and he and Elizabeth get back together again. Is it me, or is this reading like a soap opera plot summary you find in the newspaper TV listings? Anyway, Tony gets Cole drinking again. Cole beats and rapes Elizabeth in a rage. A major character ends up murdered, and Elizabeth is implicated, so she must search for the real killer before ending up in the pokey.

The video box claims Elizabeth "seems to have it all." It mentions the rich hubby, the big manse, and the affair. This is what a woman having it all gets? Are women supposed to cheer for Elizabeth's predicament, instead of tiring of a spoiled adulterous seascape painter?

Michael Moriarty, in real life an unapologetic drinking man, plays a drunk well. In fact, I would hazard to guess that is not just iced tea in the glasses of booze he swills. He looks physically ill, his voice is a raspy whisper, and I would worry about this actor if I were a friend or family member. Poor Boyd Kestner is handsome and dashing, but is asked to play a dumb pretty boy role. Onorati is also a talented actor I have seen before, but he gets the one note jerk villain role here.

Comparisons to a soap opera are not that far off. Cut the too few nude scenes and a couple of curse words, and you would have a special hour and a half episode of "Passions." The direction here is very standard, television episode quality, Preuss does not try to do anything with the bland script.

Despite the title, "The Art of Murder" has little to do with art. Sure, there is murder, but watching that old episode of "Murder, She Wrote" might be more challenging than this shallow take. I can guarantee the acting and writing would be on the same level. (*) out of five stars.