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FILM REVIEW: Chilling Katherine Heigl Can’t Make UNFORGETTABLE Memorable

FILM REVIEW: Chilling Katherine Heigl Can’t Make UNFORGETTABLE Memorable

Though first famous for her role in the soapy Grey’s Anatomy, Katherine Heigl really is a version of America’s sweetheart. Known in film for comedic touches such as her appearances in Knocked Up and 27 Dresses, among other lighthearted fare, it is impossible not to feel warm and fuzzy when thinking of Heigl’s genuine and endearing smiler, her tender demeanor and her obvious charm.

Not so, however, when she plays the psychotically obsessed ex-wife Tessa in the upcoming “erotic thriller” Unforgettable, the directing debut of producer Denise Di Novi. In the film, a wholly unoriginal remake of films from Basic Instinct and Enough (and everything in between), Tessa is in the process of getting over her hottie husband David (Geoff Stults), when Julia, a long-suffering Rosario Dawson enters the picture and elbows her way into the family. Tessa is not pleased, to say the least.

What follows is a strictly formulaic, slow build thriller that will surprise no one and entertain only the most gullible. Content itself to be really an eye candy vehicle for the trifecta of lead stars (David, after all, has a smoking hot wife in Tessa and an equally attractive new thang in Julia), and not even really pretending to have much eroticism, or much thrill, for that matter, Unforgettable is a, yup, woefully forgettable movie.

If it weren’t, that is, for Heigl at its core.

Many of these crazy psycho woman films don’t require much of their lead performer. With no disrespect to the musically talented J. Lo or Beyonce, their appearances as stalkees did not really challenge them to do much more than scream and act fierce. It is the role of the deranged, jilted lover, the one made most famous by Sharon Stone or Glenn Close, that is much more difficult. Heigl may not quite be those iconic actresses, but she comes close, particularly given the humorous, romantic bar from which she begins.

In Unforgettable, Heigl faces a rather tall hurdle, which is to portray a scary character while also making her somewhat pathetically sympathetic. Some iconic villains, of course, are memorable for their pure evil. Heigl’s Tess is cruel and unforgivable, particularly with respect to her own daughter and how she uses her, disturbingly, as a pawn in her deadly games. But Tess is also a somewhat understandable—if not fully likable—character, oppresses herself under the yolk of an abusive mother and other sinister pasts. One feels afraid of Tess and her lunatic endeavors, but that is to be expected. One does not imagine that you will actually feel bad for this demonic being in any way, but Heigl achieves that, somehow.

Indeed, the best that can be said for the otherwise hackneyed Unforgettable is that at the very least the two female characters at its core take absolute control of the film within those predictable guardrails. The movie repeatedly trips over plot hole after another, spectacular and unbelievable setups for maximum catfight effect, and yet does not completely lose you because at least you care about what is happening to these women, again, somehow.

Heigl overplays Dawson, but the latter is still respectable. Refreshing, too, is that this tale does not pit the overtly sexist older woman vs. younger, or the hot vs. the unattractive dichotomy that defines this genre. Unforgettable at times veers dangerously close to those disasters—what with remarks about crazy women not drinking beers, or clichés about motherhood—but recovers quickly. It is content to fall, repeatedly, for other more generic offenses, such as the implausible release of a murder suspect minute after her arrest, the improbably use of technology for menacing purposes, and the overall ridiculous plot that is hatched.

By the end of the entire saga—and assuredly with its unnecessary final scene, which nearly collapses the entire project from cheesy violent soap to D-list horror movie—you will be laughing at how little the filmmakers cared to go anywhere truly new with the story surrounding this project. And, yet, despite, this, you will also exit the theater with a deep admiration for what two talented actress, but in particular Heigl, can do with such problematic source material. That, at least, is worth remembering.


Grade: B-

About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, the pseudonym of a New York City-based writer, is a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online and has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age. JDB has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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