Review: Sex and Murder Become Dull Bedfellows In BREAKING THE GIRLS

Brian Clark, European Editor
Alright Alfred Hitchcock (or Patricia Highsmith) fans, see if you remember this one : Two strangers meet by chance, hit it off and soon realize that each of them has a person in their life that they'd like dead. They get to talking more and realize that if each kills the other's enemy, neither will be suspected and they can both live happily ever after.

Yes, we're in Strangers on a Train territory here, only this time, the stranger inciting the murder plot is a rich, hard-partying lesbian, Alex, who seduces a previously straight, financially strapped law student, Sarah. In other words, Breaking the Girls should be sexy, devilish fun -- It takes a classic setup, brings the homoerotic subtext of the original to the surface and juices it up with decadent sets and a fair amount of late-night cable sex. Unfortunately, director Jamie Babbit (But I'm a Cheerleader) never manages to make the ingredients sizzle.

The main reason the film feels so flat stems from what seems like a complete unwillingness from anyone involved to take chances or have fun.  The script is efficient, and even throws a couple pretty decent twists in towards the end, but has no sense of play or urgency, which makes solving the mysteries of the film feel akin to watching a rerun of Murder She Wrote. Also, Babbit keeps the only interesting characters sidelined. Davenia McFadden is a standout as a tough, compassionate cop who never gets much to do, and while her dialogue is uneven, Madeline Zima's still manages a welcome, offbeat performance as Alex, especially during the seduction portion of the movie.

Unfortunately, we are mostly stuck with Sarah, who seems manufactured from a bullet-point list of "everywoman" attributes. She's a hard-working law student from a modest background who's polite, not exactly nice, apparently smart, but not clever or witty, and perpetually nursing an unrequited crush on an even blander, handsome guy. Agnes Bruckner portrays her straight down the middle, giving her almost no defining characteristics or emotional depth. Sure, she's playing the (ahem) straight woman to Zima's psycho-scheming-lesbian, but it's hard to really identify or root for a character that's such a bore to watch.

Moreover, while the film is at times pretty to look at, it's completely devoid of any atmosphere or mood. Even the repetitive piano score feels like its simply following the beats of the plot without any regard to subtext or intensity. The sex scenes, which should be a transgressive highlight in any trashy erotic thriller, are oddly lifeless and padded with soft light and pop music. A potentially edgy three-way in a swimming pool peters out before it begins when one character gets uncomfortable after some kissing and goes home.

And in a way, it feels like the same thing happened with the team behind Breaking the Girls. If Babbit and company had simply said "fuck it" and pushed the sex, murder, histrionics and melodrama to a riskier, go-for-broke place, they might have still made a bad film... but at least they wouldn't have made a boring one.

Breaking the Girls releases in theaters and On Demand in the U.S., July 26.
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