There’s something funny about watching an erotic film in a packed theater. When I saw Chloe at a Los Angeles screening room a few weeks back, the theater was filled with older people, and as the film’s steamy scenes heated up, the audience quite shifting in their seats, stopped sucking on their candies and became completely still and silent*. They got really quiet during the scene where Liam Neeson appears to be blowing his load into Amanda Seyfried’s mouth.

Atom Egoyan’s film, based on a French movie called Nathalie, is a slow burn. A very slow burn. It’s so slow, in fact, that the movie feels stalled just before it finally goes into a weird psychosexual overdrive. Julianne Moore thinks that her scampish professor husband, Liam Neeson, is cheating on her. She does what most reasonable women in her position would do: she hires a beautiful young prostitute to seduce him to see what will happen. There’s a lot of moping and Moore being paranoid – and a lot of Moore and Neeson’s sallow son getting his first sex on – before the movie really heats up and we realize that Moore is turned on by hearing what the hooker is doing with her hubby. And then it gets weirder, until it climaxes in a scene where the son watches his hot, half-naked mom making out with the woman he just fucked in his mom’s bed.

Writing it out makes the film seem much more intriguing than it is; it’s not that Chloe is bad, it’s just that Egoyan seems to want to take this really trashy concept and make it elegant. Instead he makes it stultifying, and he makes the upper class lives of this married couple almost impenetrable. It’s a classic Rich White People Problems movie, and Egoyan does little to soften the edges of these folks living in a palatial home with money flowing out of their ears. If you don’t care about the problems of wildly successful gyno Julianne Moore before she makes the bizarre decision to hire that young harlot she met crying in a fancy restaurants’ bathroom, you’re certainly not going to care after she starts handing the girl envelopes full of cash.

It’s too bad, because approached with the right lowbrow sensibilities this film could have been a lot of fun. Especially with this cast, who would actually be better served by a more overheated screenplay; everybody spends lots of time looking pensive or distant, and Seyfried has to deliver lots of speeches that sound like they came out of a college writing workshop. They all seem game to go for it – like I said, you get Neeson’s O face, and Julianne Moore shows that age is no barrier to her getting naked, or to her masturbating in the shower for a long time. And Seyfried delivers plenty of sideboob for the duration of the picture before finally showing it all. I know that this is a crass way to write about these actors, but isn’t the reality that this is what an erotic film like this is all about – a high-falutin’ excuse to see some flesh?

Of course the difference between an erotic film like this and your standard exploitation nonsense is that the acting in Chloe – even with the stunted dialog – is good. Neeson’s not winning any awards here, but Moore’s really interesting as a woman discovering her own kinky side. And Seyfried is often incredible; in fact she’s so incredible that I wish the film had given her more to do, and more room to explore what made her become a high class call girl. There’s sort of a reason why the movie leaves much of her backstory off the table, but getting to know her more could have made for an interesting counterpoint to Moore’s Rich White People Problems. Even as a plot device, though, Seyfried brings depth to the character, and she has a magnetic screen presence, focused mainly in her huge eyes – crazy girl eyes, but the kind of crazy girl eyes you can’t stop staring into.

When Chloe reaches its climax – it’s fairly funny climax – the film finally breaks out of its stodgy ways and go full on B-film nutty. But it takes too long to get there, and the pay off simply isn’t big enough to make up for the airless scenes at the beginning. Not a bad film, Chloe simply needed to embrace its own Fatal Attraction goes lesbian nature and have more fun with it.

6 out of 10

* in all fairness this happens even with ‘wild’ audiences. I saw a couple of Japanese pink films at Fantastic Fest, and that hardcore crowd was reduced to stone silence during the lengthy (and music-free) sex scenes.