Consenting Adults (1992) starring Kevin Kline, Kevin Spacey, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Rebecca Miller, Forest Whitaker, E.G. Marshall, Kimberly McCullough directed by Alan J. Pakula Movie Review

Consenting Adults (1992)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Kevin Kline, Kevin Spacey and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Consenting Adults

Spacey & Klines Devious Wife Swap

"Consenting Adults" is a movie of two halves, a brilliant first half full of simmering intentions, semi erotica and to be honest some ingenuity which draws you in to every second. But then the second half arrives and in a blink of an eye it all becomes messy and convoluted, struggling to hold the plot together as it ventures into a far fetched fantasy. It's only saving grace during this second half is a superior performance by Kevin Spacey who almost seems to be channelling Jack Nicholson with a menacing almost psychotic characterisation which helps distract from the surrounding mess. It's a shame really as "Consenting Adults" could have been so much more rather than just another good thriller turned average by an over zealous writer.

Richard and Priscilla Parker's (Kevin Kline & Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) lives are almost perfect in their suburban, happy household. But when Eddy and Kay Otis (Kevin Spacey & Rebecca Miller) move next door that all changes as the fun loving, risk taking Eddy sprinkles fun into their lives as they all become best friends sharing weekends away together. But when Eddy suggests they share more than weekends and swap wives Richard's life spirals out of control as he realises Eddy is not all that he seems.

Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Consenting Adults

The set up to "Consenting Adults" is wonderful, you have the almost perfect situation of Richard and Priscilla Parker but you sort of realise that their routine life is lacking in something. Enter the new neighbours Eddy and Kay Otis who breathe life into the Parker's life as they go off on weekend escapades together. It's a great set up and the whole time you get the simmering undercurrent of sex, as not only does Richard seem to be lusting after Kay but Eddy likewise feels the same towards Priscilla. All this builds up to a marvellous scene where Eddy suggests they swap wives, secretively in the middle of the night.

Every second of this first half is captivating as it edges towards the risque act of deviancy which Richard finally agrees to, succumbing to his primal urges. But at the same time it also signposts what's to come, but not in a completely obvious way but it sows a seed of thought in your head that when Eddy pulls an insurance scam by pretending to be hurt when Richard runs him over. What it isn't though is blatantly erotic, yes the whole time you get that simmering undercurrent of lust but when the inevitable act happens it is surprisingly tasteful not going down the obvious route of exploiting the sex for purposes of titillation and it's much better for doing so.

But then cometh the second half of the movie, cometh a more disappointing one. The thing is that during the second half "Consenting Adults" takes on a more traditional thriller element and as such ends up falling on its face as the story becomes OTT, far fetched and convoluted. Things fall in to place far too easily and everything almost feels overly simplistic. It's a shame because despite this the second half does have some good moments; in particular that at times it manages to deliver some marvellous shocks through the use of the unexpected. It literally delivers moments worthy of a horror as something unexpected makes you jump.

What is also a shame is that the first half of the movie manages to sow seeds of thoughts into your head that not everything may be as crystal clear as it first seems. As such you go into this second half almost questioning everything, when Forrest Whitaker turns up as an insurance investigator you question whether he is what he seems or part of a bigger scam. It's a nice element but because everything ends up being contrived it ends up being wasted.

What does save this second half is the performance from Kevin Spacey and to be frank makes the first half so good as well. Spacey manages to deliver such a charismatic character, in the first half you believe that this guy is a fast talking financial advisor yet you also realise that he's more than he seems. Yet when the second half comes and now you have a more ominous character one which borders on being psychotic, but is still utterly charismatic. When Spacey delivers some lines it is almost spell binding and more importantly believable.

Shame then that the rest of the cast although not terrible are over shadowed by Spacey's immense talent. Kevin Kline, an actor who I personally associate with more humorous movies, at times seems to struggle playing an average Joe. Yes you get that sense during the first half with his lust for his neighbour's wife but when that second half comes all characterisation is lost. When he should be delivering fear it doesn't work. As for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Rebecca Miller well they end up being adequate but not special unless you enjoy Miller's slightly forced performance as the sultry, dewy eyed Kay Otis.

What this all boils down to is that "Consenting Adults" is a shame. It's a shame because it has some clever ideas and a great performance from Kevin Spacey; it even delivers a wonderful first half which draws you into a semi erotic theme of deviancy and wife swapping. But then it spoils it all in search of delivering a thrilling, contrasting second half that only ends up feeling contrived and slightly over the top as well as being almost formulaic.